It may have taken a little longer than anticipated, but the Aberdeen Wings finally nailed down the first victory in the organization’s history on Friday - a 5-3 triumph over the Bismarck Bobcats.
“Starting 0-5 is not where anyone wanted to be, but the guys believe we’re better than our record,” said Wings head coach Pete Sauer. “Notching our first win was big for this team.”
After losing all four games at the NAHL Showcase Tournament last month, including defeats against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Wichita Falls Wildcats - both early frontrunners in their respective divisions - the first-year Wings fell to Bismarck, the defending NAHL champions, last weekend before finding the win column against the Bobcats.
“All of our opponents have been quality teams,” said Sauer. “When you make mental mistakes against teams like that, they’re going to make you pay and they have. The guys have settled down and it shows.”
Nils Semjoniv, who was picked up recently in a trade with the Springfield Jr. Blues, has paid immediate dividends. The 18-year-old from Latvia tallied a pair of goals in the Wings’ win over Bismarck - his second game with the team.
“Nils is a great addition,” said Sauer. “He has good hands, moves well and has good presence around the net. He was only on the ice with us for a couple of practices before our last game, but is settling in well.”
Cory Ward, a 17-year-old from Las Vegas, also came through with a pair of goals against the Bobcats, including the game-winner. He leads the team in scoring with five points through six games.
“Cory is a big asset on both ends of the puck,” said Sauer. “He’s young, but plays like he’s been in the league for a season. He’s improving by the day.”
So is the rest of the team, according to Sauer. With a roster comprised of primarily first-year junior players, the coach knew full well coming into the season there would be a period of transition.
“We have a skilled, but very young, team that goes hard,” he said. “The biggest adjustments for these guys who’ve come from high school or Midgets is getting used to the speed of the game in this league, along with the consequences of mental lapses; there’s so little room for error.
“Also, getting used to different line combinations and the mixing and matching at this time of year with new players being added can be tricky.”
The important thing for Sauer, however, is that he believes in his team, its resiliency, and what it’s capable of accomplishing in the coming months.
“The character, work ethic and attitude of the players is what’s allowing us to improve the way we are,” he said. “There’s no stop and no shortage in their faith in terms of where we’ll end up at the end of the season. We’ve made great strides and it’ll continue.”
The Wings hope to keep with their winning ways this weekend, when the Central Division-leading Coulee Region Chill comes to town for two games on Friday and Saturday.
“Coulee is a very strong team and is riding a well-deserved wave,” said Sauer. “We need to play a complete game with no lulls. They’ll come hard and we need to hit them head-on with minimal mistakes.”
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Forward Tucker Coborn, a 19 year-old from Park Rapids, Minn., and defenseman Michael Pieper, 20-year-old for from Warroad, Minn., scored for the Blizzard in its only game of the weekend on Saturday - a 5-2 loss to the Bismarck Bobcats.
AUSTIN BRUINS: Forward James Dickinson, a 19-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., notched the team’s only goal (shorthanded) as the Bruins fell to the Owatonna Express on Saturday, 2-1, in Austin’s only game of the weekend.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: In two games last weekend, defenseman Dalton Spicer, an 18-year-old from Grand Forks, N.D., chipped in three assists and was also a plus-4. “Dalton has been a bright spot for us,” said head coach Layne Sedevie. “He’s extremely skilled and is starting to adjust nicely to the level of play in the NAHL.”
COULEE REGION CHILL: Off last weekend, the division-leading Chill, which has yet to lose a game in regulation (5-0-1), will head to Aberdeen this weekend for a pair of games against the Wings.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Defenseman Marian Fiala, a 20-year-old from Slovakia, assisted on both Express goals in its 2-1 victory over the Austin Bruins on Saturday. He has four points (three assists) through five games.