BISMARCK, ND – The Bismarck Bobcats will host their final interdivision series of 2011-12 starting Friday when they welcome the Coulee Region Chill—now of the NAHL’s Midwest Division—to the VFW Sports Center for a rematch of the 2011 Central Division Finals, a series the Bobcats won in five games last April.
With the divisional realignment that took place during the summer of 2011, it is the Chill’s first visit to Bismarck since an overtime thriller in Game Four of the division finals on April 23.
The two teams come into the weekend heading in different directions, though, as the Bobcats enter Friday’s series opener on a five game win streak and sit just four points away from becoming the first team in the NAHL to clinch a playoff spot while the Chill are on a five game losing streak and locked in a battle with the Springfield Jr. Blues for third place in the top-heavy Midwest.
A rough first half for the Chill, however, is not fooling the Bobcats coming into the weekend.
“We know that the Chill are a talented team with players like David Ripple and Eric Drapluk, so our guys need to know that their record [11-18-5] will have no bearing on what happens on the ice,” stressed Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. “This is a team that’s already beaten us once [3-1 on November 4] so we’ve been telling the players all week that it’s going to take 60 minutes both nights if we want four points.”
For the Bobcats, the news is improving on the injury front. After missing nearly two months to a shoulder injury and getting light use in the Bobcats’ New Year’s Eve win at Minot, blueliner John Furgele returned to full duty last weekend as the Bobcats swept the Austin Bruins, collecting a power play assist and a +1 rating in two games.
“I wasn’t even really thinking about the shoulder, to be honest,” admitted Furgele, whose three goals and six assists place him one point away from being the 14th Bobcat in double digits for points on the year, “the bigger concern was making the right play in situations against Austin’s forecheck and playing a simple game defensively to get back in rhythm.”
Third-leading scorer Frank DeAugustine, sidelined by a December 17 concussion, returned to Bismarck Tuesday after doctors cleared him to return to practice. He could be back in the Cats’ lineup as soon as January 20 against Aberdeen.
The Bobcats’ tear has been paced by a revitalized by a resurgent power play unit, creating five goals in the last four games to crest the 20% mark (20.61%) that coaches strive for. A return to fundamentals is credited for the special teams bounce-back.
“The big thing has been getting the puck to the net,” noted Shane Omdahl, a power play regular all season, “when things weren’t going well, we were trying to get fancy with the puck or trying to force things around shotblockers. When you’ve got big guys like Castan Sommer and Bryce Schmitt creating traffic in front, you’ve got to get it on net.”
With fifth-place Minot sitting at 4-29-2 (10 pts), the Bobcats need any combination of points that they gain and points the Tauros lose that adds up to four to claim a spot in the 2012 postseason.
“Getting into the playoffs for us would be the first step on the road to success that we envisioned at the start of the year,” explained Sedevie, whose team did not wrap up a postseason berth until March 10 last season. “Our biggest regular season goal, though, remains home ice advantage through the division playoffs—it’s something that’s really important as far as strategy and travel, and we want to get it for our fans, too.”
Over the course of this weekend’s series, the Bobcats will be helping to raise funds for Jack Jablonski, a high school hockey player from Benilde-St. Margaret in Minnesota who was left paralyzed from a hit from behind during a junior varsity game in late 2011. Chuck-a-pucks will have a special price of $5.00, with all proceeds going to Jack, whose story has touched the entire hockey world in the first two weeks of the new year.
The puck will drop for Friday’s contest at 7:15 PM, with Saturday’s game getting under way at the same time.
Both games 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 each night.
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!