Not So Fast, My Friend

ALEXANDRIA, MN – The Bismarck Bobcats fought through tired legs and a string of bad bounces to fight off the Alexandria Blizzard for a thrilling 4-3 win Sunday at the Runestone Center that snapped the Blizzard’s league-best win streak at 11.

“These are the top two teams in the Central Division for a reason,” remarked Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, whose club eclipsed its point total of 2010-11 (67) on Sunday with the victory. “And when the Bobcats line up against the Blizzard, it’s one of the top rivalries in the Central Division—along with us and Aberdeen—and one of the best in the NAHL.”

Battling illness, Top Prospects-bound forward Dan Zawacki got the Bobcats onto the board 8:38 into the game, taking a pass at the goal line and placing a perfect wrist shot under the blocker of Blizzard goalie Jacob Meyers for a 1-0 lead.

Alexandria caught a lucky bounce 3:58 later when an Aidan Cavallini dump-in eluded Bobcats netminder Aaron Nelson and careened straight to Blizzard forward Reid Sturos, who cleared the puck into the empty net as Nelson scrambled to get back into position, tying the score at one.

Former Alexandria forward Adam Knochenmus scored his third goal against his former mates in as many games, striking off a broken play on the power play when the puck was stripped from blueliner Bryce Anderson and skidded straight to Knochenmus, who belted a one-timer five-hole for a 2-1 Bobcat edge.

The Blizzard answered back with some more good fortune, this time on the power play when a long shot from Michael Mooney redirected off the foot of Nick D’Avolio and in past Nelson. The Bobcats argued the puck was kicked in, but the referees ruled the goal good and the score was tied with 40 seconds left in the first.

Fresh off a power play opportunity, Donald Olivieri pushed the Cats ahead 3-2 when the Philadelphia native intercepted an attempted clear by Alexandria’s Vadim Gyesbreghs and walked in untouched and smashed a rising snap shot over Meyers’ glove 8:36 into the second period.

“Coach Sedevie had me up on forward the last couple of nights to mix things up,” explained the natural defenseman Olivieri, who made a big-time gamble pay off when he pressed along the wall to pick Gyesbreghs’ pocket. “There’s a lot less that can go wrong if I take chances at forward; I forecheck, I backcheck—it makes life a little easier.”

Gyesbreghs redeemed himself 72 seconds later, though, floating a knuckling shot through traffic that confounded Nelson, glancing off his glove and in to reinstate a tie at 3-3.

It would be Olivieri, however, who would get the last laugh as he fought a Danny Ray rebound on net that Meyers attempted to fight off, but in the scramble inadvertently batted it into his own net to make it 4-3 with 8:37 to go in the second.

Alexandria had a golden opportunity to even the score late in the second when Thomas Williams was awarded a penalty shot on a Jeremy O’Keefe trip. Williams attempted to deke to the left, but Nelson waited him out and forced him to hold off on his shot until he was nearly to the goal line—a shot that the Alexandria native missed wide.

“I just had to stay patient and wait for Williams to make his move,” recalled Nelson, who secured his 11th win of the season Sunday. “It was basically a game of chicken—I waited, he committed and ran out of room.”

Nelson was called on to come up huge in the third, making 14 of his 33 saves in the final 20 minutes to help extend the Bobcats’ (34-6-1, 69 pts) to 15 points over the surging Blizzard (26-11-2, 54 pts).

Meyers made just 13 saves before being lifted for backup goalie Jameson Shortreed after Olivieri’s second tally, taking his first loss since December 16. Shortreed made 11 saves but did not factor into the decision.

The Bobcats and Blizzard get right back at their smoldering rivalry with a special 7:15 PM Wednesday evening bout at the VFW Sports Center, the first time the two teams will meet in Bismarck since September 24.

Wednesday’s rematch will be broadcast locally on the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, Super Talk 1270, KLXX-AM, and worldwide on the official internet television partner of the NAHL, FASTHockey, at http://nahl.fasthockey.com. Pregame coverage gets under way at 6:45.

Season tickets are still available for the second half of the 2011-12 season—and going fast! Call the Bobcat Hockey office at (701) 222-3300 or email gobobcathockey@aol.com for more information on reserving a pro-rated package for the rest of the season!