Bobcats Claim Fifth Straight Division Title
BISMARCK, ND – For the fifth consecutive season, the Bismarck Bobcats have captured the Central Division title, ousting the top-seeded Austin Bruins with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory in Game Four of the Central Division Finals Saturday at the VFW Sports Center to clinch the best-of-five-game series 3-1.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of our guys for how hard they worked and battled in this series,” credited Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie, who has now presided over three Central Cups in his tenure behind the Bobcat bench. “Nothing came easy: we ran into hot goaltending every night, we fought through injuries and just flat-out found ways to win through sheer hard work and determination.”
It was the regular-season division champion Bruins who struck first Saturday, though, as second-year veteran A.J. Reid launched home a Riley Colvard into a largely open net as Bobcat netminder Aaron Nelson scrambled to recover, boosting the visitors to a 1-0 lead with 12:14 to go in the opening frame.
Things took a bizarre turn late in the first period off a neutral zone faceoff as Bobcat assistant captain Filip Starzynski drew a butt-ending penalty on Reid, who was assessed a double-minor and a game ejection for the infraction while Starzynski himself earned a cross-checking call in the transaction.
On the ensuing power play, Matt Pohlkamp uncorked a low liner—nearly identical to his game-winner on Friday—that Seth Blair redirected from two feet in front of Bruins goalie Jason Pawloski and inside the short post with 1:57 to go in the first to knot the game at one.
Twenty seconds after Blair’s sixth of the playoffs, Austin’s top playoff scorer, Chris Fischer, was ejected for abuse of officials after a verbal altercation following an offside call at the Bobcat blueline. Fischer entered Friday with eight points in seven games, including six helpers in the Central Finals.
Nelson and Pawloski stole the show in the second period, combining for 31 saves including highlight-reel stops for both goaltenders to keep the game knotted at one through 40 minutes.
Early in the third, the Bobcats started a forecheck when Patrick Moore won the race to an icing call before falling awkwardly into the boards. Shaken up, Moore raced to the bench to avoid a stoppage as Nate Repensky fed the puck down the right wing to Adam Knochenmus, who hit a streaking Shane Omdahl for a back-door tap-in with 14:35 to go in regulation, lifting the Cats to a 2-1 edge.
“All Adam. That play was all Adam,” stated Omdahl, who played his high school hockey as a teammate of Knochenmus’ with the Roseau (Minn.) Rams. “He just put it into a perfect spot for me and all I had to do was tap it in.”
Following Omdahl’s go-ahead tally, Austin turned up the heat, outshooting the Bobcats 9-3 over the final 14-plus minutes of the game.
Bruins head coach Chris Tok called time out with 3:08, setting up a crucial defensive stretch for the Cats. Austin nearly equalized it as a Ladislav Zikmund rebound rolled toward Jay Dickman, who had a wide-open net to shoot at with 1:22 left, but Omdahl swooped in and stole the puck before Dickman could get to it.
In the final minute, Moore and Matt Anders made critical shot blocks to keep the puck from getting to Nelson.
Pohlkamp was assigned the duties of the final faceoff in the Bobcat zone, needed after he was whistled for icing with 3.5 seconds left in the game. Though the Cats’ rookie forward was able to tie up the draw, Dickman rescued the puck and fire a shot that sailed wide as time expired, delivering the Bobcats their fifth straight divisional crown.
It is the first time that the Bobcats have clinched a playoff series at home since the 2009 Central Division Finals, when they eliminated the Owatonna Express with a 6-3 Game Five win—a span that comprises seven series victories.
“Our fans are the best in the league, so it means everything to us to win [the division] here in front of them,” beamed Omdahl, who missed a large chunk of February and March to a shoulder injury before coming back strong in the playoffs with three goals. “[The fans] deserve it. We’re all so happy to win it right here in our barn.”
The win wraps up the 2012-13 home slate for the Bobcats, who were an impressive 22-4-6 at the corner of Washington and Divide, including the playoffs. It also caps an incredible stretch inside the friendly confines that saw them pile up a 15-1-5 record at home after Christmas, with the lone regulation loss coming on January 5 against Brookings.
Nelson submitted 36 saves to improve to 6-1 in the 2013 playoffs while Pawloski took his second loss of the postseason despite 36 stops of his own.
Robertson Cup Tournament play opens for the Bobcats, the tournament’s #3 seed, Friday at 4:30 PM at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Tex., where they will take on the winner of the Wenatchee/Fairbanks West Division Final series to kick off the North American Hockey League’s championship weekend. Fairbanks won Game Four 3-2 over Wenatchee Saturday, forcing a decisive Game Five Tuesday at Town Toyota Center.
Saturday’s triumph makes the Cats the third team to punch their tickets to Texas, joining the North Division champion Jamestown Ironmen and the South Division champion Amarillo Bulls.
Friday’s Robertson Cup lid-lifter 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 4:00 PM. Stay tuned to Bobcats Rock on Facebook and @BismarckBobcats on twitter for information on Robertson Cup viewing parties.