ALEXANDRIA, MN – The Bismarck Bobcats got back to their winning ways and created a little separation in the Central Division standings, blanking the second-place Alexandria Blizzard 2-0 Wednesday at the Runestone Center.
Tommy Burke recorded his first career shutout behind 24 saves in net as the Cats (36-7-1, 73 pts) extended their divisional lead to 16 points over the Blizzard (27-13-3, 57 pts).
It was a defensive struggle as neither team could break through over the first 30-plus minutes of the game, with Burke and Blizzard goalie Jacob Meyers each stopping the first 15 shots they faced.
Bobcats rookie Ryan Callahan broke the scoreless tie with 5:51 left in the second period on a bit of good fortune when a Shane Omdahl centering pass on the rush was blocked by an Alexandria defender straight to Callahan, who volleyed a quick shot through Meyers’ legs to push the Cats ahead 1-0.
“John Furgele made a nice breakout pass and Shane tried to get it to the front,” recalled Callahan, who hadn’t scored since the Bobcats’ 8-3 win at Minot on December 2. “[Former Bobcat defenseman Charlie] Aus got a piece of it and it bounced right to me. I had to take a quick shot before Meyers got set because he is a quick goalie.”
Meyers settled down after Callahan’s go-ahead marker, stopping the next 10 shots he faced before being pulled in the final minute of the game as the Blizzard attempted to find the equalizer.
With the net empty, the Blizzard tried to force the action to the net but Burke and the Bobcat defense clogged the passing lanes to prevent any high-quality chances.
When the Blizzard took a long offside call with five seconds left, Tyler Richter stepped in to take the faceoff at the Alexandria blue line and—with Meyers still on the Alexandria bench in favor of the extra attacker—perfectly placed the puck into the empty net for the final count of 2-0 with two seconds to go in the game.
Wednesday’s victory pushed Burke’s win total to 24, second best in the NAHL and secured him an elusive shutout. Burke has had numerous close calls, including losing a shutout with less than one second remaining in a 3-1 win over Aberdeen on September 23.
“I didn’t really have a shutout on my mind tonight,” countered Burke, who did his heaviest lifting Wednesday in a 12-save first period, “I just went out and made an effort to try and give us a chance to win with the goals our offense scored.”
Following a disappointing 3-2 loss at Aberdeen Saturday, the Bobcats stressed a defense-first approach that became apparent as the game went on, with the Cats limiting Alexandria to just 12 shots in the final two periods.
Burke, who did not play Saturday, said the defensive commitment did not go unnoticed.
“Guys did a lot better job blocking passes, backchecking and getting in front of shots. It was a big change from Saturday, which was a big wake-up call for us in our own end.”
After playing five of their last six games away from the VFW Sports Center, the Bobcats will now return home for two games to wrap up their taxing stretch of eight games in 15 nights, starting Friday with a 7:15 PM rematch against the Blizzard before the Austin Bruins come calling for a 7:15 PM matchup Saturday night.
Friday’s tilt 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 PM.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on reserving a pro-rated package for the rest of the season!