MASON CITY, IOWA–The Bismarck Bobcats trailed the North Iowa Bulls 3-0 with five minutes played in the second period. With both Minot and Aberdeen winning their respective games, the ‘Cats were required to pull out points of their own to keep themselves in playoff contention. What followed was pure determination.
Bismarck goaltender Linards Lipskis made a diving save on a two-on-one opportunity. On the next shift, Adam Pietila ripped a wrist shot to get the Bobcats on the board at 3-1 in the second period. In the third, Drew Holt, Evan Hunter, and Pietila all scored to complete the largest comeback of the season.
Adding to the drama, North Iowa equalized with 7.3 seconds remaining to force overtime. In the final minute of bonus hockey, Michael Neumeier directed a puck off a Bulls defenseman and through for the 5-4 victory at Mason City Arena on Saturday.
“I am proud of our team,” head coach Layne Sedevie said. “That is all I have to say about tonight. It was a good team win. We found a way. You wish we would have played like we did in the third period for 60 games. No quit, that is for sure. That was fun to watch.”
The Bobcats put themselves on the wrong side of history by allowing the first goal. Bismarck had just four wins when allowing the first goal before Saturday’s comeback. Their highest erased deficit before this was just two goals.
After another slow start, the visitors started to tilt the ice in their favor in the second period, making the two-goal setback at the second intermission surmountable. Bismarck outshot North Iowa 28-16 in the final 40 minutes of action.
Sedevie, coaching on his 40th birthday, saw his team answer the gut check.
“I told them between the second and third that the season is on the line,” Sedevie said. “We have put ourselves in this situation, and it is up to you guys. You are the only ones who can get out of it. We had 20 minutes for our season … They wanted it. They responded. They played well against all odds tonight. I have never seen a game like this in my entire coaching career, in 14 years … Where we played against ten (people) the whole night.”
In an unfortunately familiar sight, the Bobcats battled controversial officiating decisions. Most notably, a first-period goal against which stood despite clear goaltender interference. Pietila received a rarely-issued faceoff violation minor in the third as well. Bismarck fought through just about everything to earn a victory.
Lipskis settled down after the aforementioned questionable call and made 29 saves on 33 shots. In this series, he is 4-0 with a .936 save percentage. The Latvian has backstopped the Bobcats to back-to-back sweeps.
“Linards battled all weekend,” Sedevie said. “Man, was he good. That save (in the first period) to me sticks out. It gave us a chance, and that is all you can ask for.”
High stakes aside, the Bobcats’ performance in the third period was one of the best finishing efforts they have put on all season. In a central division that has lent itself to weekend splits and difficulty winning on back-to-back nights across the board, the ‘Cats showed off some consistency with their backs against the wall.
“To me, it is a bit of a teaching moment,” Sedevie said. “You can not wait to have that (consistency). If we play like that, we are not in this situation … You are going to have bad nights, it is 60 games. These kids are 17 to 20-year-olds. They are going to have some ups and downs, everyone adapts to junior hockey differently. The feeling in the third period, that is chemistry. That is what this game is all about. To me, that is what makes this game so special.”
Pietila tacked on two more goals to bring his team-high total to 24. Hunter tallied a goal and an assist. Attila Lippai finished with two assists. Neumeier’s overtime winner was the his GWG in 2022-23. The defenseman, one of the best offensive D in the league, had not scored since February 24.
“As a team, I do not know if there is a greater sport,” Sedevie said. “You have 20 guys on that bench, and when that happens, you share it with all your brothers in that locker room. That is the special thing about hockey. I think it is a good teaching lesson, and obviously they cared.”
Even with Minot and Aberdeen also sweeping their series, the Bobcats are still very much alive. Bismarck trails the final playoff spot by just two points with two games to play. A pair of wins on home ice against North Iowa, combined with both the Minotauros and Wings failing to sweep, is the easiest path to clinch.
“We battled every element possible,” Sedevie said. “I have never seen a game like this. Everything that could go against you. There is one word for that group in there and that is perseverance.”
The Bismarck Bobcats are home on Friday, April 14 and Saturday, April 15 against the North Iowa Bulls. It is the final weekend of the regular season and both teams’ playoff hopes are at stake. Puck drop is 7:15 p.m. both nights. Fans can purchase tickets at tickets.bismarckbobcats.com or by calling the office at 222-3300.