Fighting for their postseason lives, the Aberdeen Wings are hoping a late-season surge can catapult them back into the Central Division playoff picture.
But, says Wings head coach Pete Sauer, whose team is 3-7 in its last 10 games, it’s going to take a polished team effort the rest of the way.
“We’ve been playing very inconsistent hockey lately and, when you’re playing against solid teams game in and game out, it’s important to simplify things and take the mistakes out of your game,” said Sauer.
Regardless of the recent setbacks on the scoreboard, the Wings, who split a two-game series with Alexandria last weekend, are embracing the positives.
“It’s been a rough stretch, but we’ve seen some players really come into their own over the past month,” said Sauer.
One of them is defenseman Lane Mahoney. The 19-year-old from Spokane Valley, Wash., tallied his first goal of the season on Friday - a 6-3 loss to the Blizzard - while picking up half of his season’s six-assist total in the Wings’ 5-3 triumph over Alexandria on Saturday.
“Lane’s worked hard throughout the season and it’s paying off for him on the ice,” said Sauer. “He’s become a threat for us on the point and has really been mistake-free the past month.”
The Wings, who will send two players to the upcoming NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich. - forward Louis Educate and goaltender Frederick Leisner - are also excited about the moves they made at the recent trade deadline, particularly the addition of defenseman Geoff Ferguson.
Dealt from Wenatchee, the 19-year-old from Hanover, New Brunswick will play his college puck at Dartmouth.
“Geoff’s come in and instantly gained the respect of all of our players,” said Sauer. “Since being acquired, he’s played in every situation for us and has done a great job. He improves by the day with all the extra work he puts in after practice.”
In their first NAHL season, the Wings have also been extremely impressed with how the community, fans and local businesses have rallied around the club despite its struggles in the standings.
“The support we’ve received from the City of Aberdeen has been wonderful,” said Sauer. “We really are blessed with extraordinary fans who’ve shown an endless amount of support all season.”
But there’s still time left for the Wings to make a late run at a postseason berth. Tied with Austin with 33 points, both the Bruins and Wings are 14 points behind Alexandria for the division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
The Wings have 13 games remaining - six of them against the Bruins and two against the Blizzard.
“We have a resilient group of guys in our locker room,” said Sauer. “We’re focused on improving everyday and competing until the end. Having a strong finish is what we’re striving for and we’ll be working hard to accomplish that.”
The Wings, though, who host division-leading Owatonna for a two-game series this weekend, are taking their hopeful progress one step at a time.
“Our focus will continue to be on the next game at hand,” said Sauer. “We have an opportunity to get better individually and as a team with each game we play.”
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Mercyhurst recruit Nardo Nagtzaam, who ranks fourth in NAHL scoring with 60 points (23 goals) through 42 games, picked up three assists as the Blizzard doubled up Aberdeen on Friday, 6-3. The next night, the 20-year-old from the Netherlands added a goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to the Wings. Alexandria busses to Aberdeen this weekend for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday.
AUSTIN BRUINS: Forwards Charlie Adams (goal, assist), Cody Hotchkin (goal, assist) and Jordan Greenberg (goal, assist) and defenseman Jonathan Gehrt (two assists) all fashioned two-point nights in the Bruins’ 5-4 shootout win over Bismarck on Saturday. Austin, which is 14 points behind Alexandria for the division’s fourth and final playoff spot, hosts the Blizzard for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Forward Nikolaj Rosenthal connected for both goals in the Bobcats' 2-0 victory over Austin on Friday. The 19-year-old from Copenhagen, Denmark, has 19 goals and 13 assists through 38 games this season. This week, Bismarck heads to Owatonna on Thursday for a game against the division-leading Express before traveling to Coulee Region for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
COULEE REGION CHILL: Forward Jake Useldinger notched a goal and two assists, including one on Scott Bell's game-winning marker, in the Chill's 8-2 win over Owatonna on Saturday. In 42 games this season, the 19-year-old from East Grand Forks, Minn., has eight goals for 24 points. Coulee Region, which sits one point behind division-leading Owatonna in the standings, hosts Bismarck for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Air Force recruit Ben Persian, a 20-year-old from Orono, Minn., put home two goals, including the game-winner, and an assist in the Express' 4-2 triumph over Coulee Region on Friday. Persian leads the team in scoring with 29 points (18 goals) through 44 games. Owatonna, the Central Division leaders, welcomes Bismarck to town for a game on Thursday before heading to Aberdeen for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday.