AUSTIN, MINN.–Over the course of a two-game weekend at Riverside Arena in Austin, the Bismarck Bobcats experienced a low and a high.
The Bobcats put out their most disappointing effort of the season on Friday in a 4-0 loss to the Austin Bruins. Bismarck only managed 18 shots, very few of which were quality chances, and were out-worked from start to finish.
Saturday’s game immediately began much more auspiciously for the ‘Cats. Chase Beacom and Adam Pietila both scored within the first six minutes of the first period to take an instant 2-0 lead. The Bruins chipped away and scored three consecutive goals to grab the lead, but Bismarck’s Patrick Johnson and Brandon Reller came up with the game-tying and game-winning goals, respectively, in the third period for a 4-3 comeback win.
“It could not get much worse than Friday night,” Layne Sedevie, Bobcats’ head coach, said. “I thought we played harder. We competed a little bit. We just have to be more consistent. We are not fortunate enough to have nights off anymore. It was definitely better, that is for sure.”
After Austin took their only lead of the night, their defense limited quality chances against their goaltender, making his North American Hockey League debut, by blocking every puck in sight. The Bobcats had to adjust, and in an impressive feat of patience, Michael Neumeier carried the puck around a fallen Bruins defenseman. With no one available to block the centering pass, Neumeier fed Johnson in the low slot for a one-timer with 12:41 remaining.
Reller’s go-ahead goal was the result of a successful two-on-one. After stopping an Austin chance from in tight, Ian Engel rimmed the puck to Erik Atchison in the neutral zone. Atchison dodged a Bruin at the blue line, then fed his roommate for a quick left circle shot. The Bobcats suddenly led 4-3 with 7:25 to go.
Getting to the finish line took a lot of work on the defensive end. Austin pulled their goaltender with two-and-a-half minutes remaining, but the Bobcats protected their house and fended off everything the Bruins tried with time running out.
“We did not compete to where we need to, but it was definitely better,” Sedevie said. “I think even in our defensive zone, (on) pucks laying in front of our net, we need to find a way to get that second and third effort … I do not think there is a team in this division that does not play hard, and if you do not play hard, you get embarrassed like (we) did last night.”
While Austin–the top team in the central division–again played a strong game on Saturday, it was not nearly as lopsided as Friday’s contest. Bismarck put 26 shots on net. On the other end, Hunter Garvey made 31 saves in one of his best performances all season.
The series split brings the Bobcats to within two points of Minot, who holds the fourth and final playoff spot. Conveniently, the Minotauros are next up on the schedule. Bismarck hosts Minot at the VFW Sports Center on Friday, February 24 before traveling to the Maysa Arena on Saturday, February 25.
“We just have to get better,” Sedevie said. “Bottom line. We have to find consistency in our game. We have to get back to working and having that mentality. I told the guys after the game, we can not not show up on Friday. We can not have a good Friday, then not show up on Saturday … That has to come from within that locker room.”