Bobcats Top Bruins to Claim Division Title
BISMARCK, ND – A team that relied on goaltending and defense all year long, the Bismarck Bobcats rode a hot start from goalie Hunter Shepard and a strong shotblocking effort to a 4-0 Game Five victory over the Austin Bruins Monday at the VFW Sports Center, claiming the best-of-five-game Central Division three games to two and punching their ticket to the 2016 Robertson Cup Tournament.
It is the first time the Bobcats have claimed the Central Cup since 2013 and their sixth overall division playoff title.
Neither team was able to break a scoreless tie in the first, thanks in large part to Shepard, who made highlight reel glove stops on Zach Kennedy and Evan Cholak on separate transition opportunities to keep his side level at 0-0 through 20 minutes.
Bobcat forward Solag Bakich needed just 13 seconds to break the deadlock in the second period, muscling home a 2-on-1 pass from Aaron Herdt before Bruins netminder Kristofer Carlson could freeze the puck for a 1-0 Bobcat lead.
The second period stood out as the Cats’ best on Monday, as the home side peppered Carlson with 18 shots while repeatedly blocking Austin attempts—holding the visitors to just three shots in the middle frame.
Winger Jared Pike doubled the Cats’ advantage to 2-0 with 3:37 to go in the second amid a Bobcat penalty kill when a Bruins defender blew a tire at the offensive blue line, springing the second-year forward for a shorthanded breakaway that Pike cashed in high-glove on Carlson.
In the third, the two sides went toe-to-toe—each posting nine shots and trading chances on the rush—but neither team could find the net until Austin pulled Carlson for the extra attacker, allowing Pike to snap a 60-foot shot through a pair of Bruin defenders and into the empty net to make it 3-0 with 2:48 remaining.
Carlson would head back to the bench again in the final two minutes, staying there when the Cats were called for a late penalty on Pike, but Bakich tacked on one more goal into the empty net for the final 4-0 margin.
All told, Shepard turned in 20 saves for his first career playoff goose-egg. Carlson made 31 saves on 33 but couldn’t avoid his fourth loss of the postseason.
Now the Cats will pack their bags and head to Braemar Arena in Edina, Minn., for the Robertson Cup Tournament, starting Thursday. In the national semifinals, the Bobcats will face the South Division champion Wichita Falls Wildcats in a best-of-three-game series.
Game One of the Robertson Cup Semifinals is slated for 7:30pm Thursday, with Game Two to follow at the same time Friday. If necessary, Game Three will be Saturday at 6:00pm.
Thursday’s tournament opener will be broadcast live locally on SuperTalk 1270, KLXX-AM, the radio home of Bobcat Hockey, and worldwide online at NAHL.FASTHockey.com—the official web television partner of the North American Hockey League—with pregame coverage starting at 6:45pm.