By Steve Thomas, Bismarck Tribune
As one of the kingpins of the North American Hockey League, it didn’t seem the Bismarck Bobcats had much to prove in Wednesday night’s exhibition hockey game with the touring Red Star select team from Russia.
They proved something, anyway.
The Bobcats took a 2-0 lead with a brilliant second period and trimmed the Red Star 2-1. Red Star consists of the cream of the crop from the Minor Hockey League, a 32-team junior circuit with teams in Russia, Belarus and Latvia.
“The crowd really got us into it,” said Bobcats co-captain Castan Sommer. “With that atmosphere everyone was skating hard. I think we skated harder in this one than in a regular-season game because of the way the crowd was pushing us.”
Attendance was a standing-room-only total of 1,787.
Bismarck’s scoring was packed into the first half of the second period. Defenseman Donald Olivieri broke a scoreless tie by pounding home a slapshot from the top of the slot on a power play at 1:50 of the second period.
Bryce Schmitt broke loose down the right side to give the Bobcats a 2-0 lead in the middle of the period, scoring unassisted at 10:28.
That proved to be all that was needed as Bobcat goalies Tommy Burke and Aaron Nelson combined to thwart 25 of 26 Red Star shots. The only one that eluded them was a goal by Maxim Kvitchenko in the third period. Kvitchenko cut in front of the net on a four-on-three break and beat Nelson at 5:22.
Red Star kept the pressure on most of the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Bobcats 13-4, but Nelson was equal to the task. He had his hands full with about five minutes to play, surviving a three-shot flurry that included excellent opportunities by Evgeny Orlov from short range and Ilya Karlin from the slot.
With 54 seconds to play, the light came on behind Nelson, but the goal was disallowed, the officials ruling that they had lost sight of the puck before it crossed the goal line.
The Bobcats built most of their 38-26 shot advantage in the first 40 minutes. After a slow start, Bismarck dominated the final 15 minutes of the first session, outshooting Red Star 17-7. That momentum carried over into the second period as the hosts built a 15-6 advantage in shots on net.
Bobcats coach Layne Sedevie said the strong first period was advantageous, even though his team wasn’t able to tack up a goal.
“We settled the jitters … and I thought we dictated play once we settled down,” Sedevie said. “I think that really helped our confidence.”
Red Star came alive in the third period, putting 13 shots on target.
“They really turned it on in the third period,” Sommer said. “They realized they were going to have to come at us a little harder. We just weren’t going to be a little bump in the road.”
Sedevie said Red Star seemed like a different team down the stretch. “They definitely were better in the third and our guys were getting a little bit tired,” the coach said. “Emotions run through you in a game like this and it can wear on you. We were just fortunate enough to find a way to win.”
Sedevie agreed the Bobcats played an excellent game, but he wasn’t sure they’d performed a miracle.
“Coming in I felt really good about the talent in our locker room. … I knew we had a pretty good hockey team if we could go out and work hard,” he said. “I thought we did the job for 50 minutes.”
The setback was the second in three games for Red Star. Last weekend the all-star team fell 5-1 to the University of North Dakota. On Monday, Red Star downed Alexandria of the NAHL 5-1. Red Star has three games remaining on its trip, all with college opponents.