Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
What a difference a year makes.
After finishing in the Central Division cellar a season ago, the Bismarck Bobcats have wasted no time bouncing back into a legitimate championship contender.
“We’re a team in every sense of the word,” said Bobcats head coach Byron Pool, whose team sits in first place in the Central with a 35-13-2 record. “Everyone in our locker room has bought into our message.
“The players are very unselfish. They don’t care about their personal stats, and they don’t care who scores the big goal. They get a lot of satisfaction in seeing their teammates succeed.”
And the Bobcats tasted more success last weekend, skating to a two-game sweep over the Owatonna Express, starting with a 3-1 victory on Friday. Jordan Singer connected for two goals in the win, and Nick Jensen added two assists. Between the pipes, David Bosner made 28 saves.
The next night, Jensen, John Wickman and Joel Lundstrom scored in regulation and Army recruit John Clark notched the only goal of the shootout as the Bobcats skated to a 4-3 victory. Bosner made 25 saves in regulation and overtime to pick up another win in goal.
With the victories, the Bobcats are only two away from tying the team record for wins in a season (37), which was set in 2002-03 when the club competed in the America West Hockey League.
“That was a big weekend for us,” said Pool. “Owatonna is a scary hockey team. They have a ton of offensive firepower and we knew we’d have to be at our absolute defensive best with the contrast in styles between the two clubs. It was a great accomplishment to pick up four points against such a strong team.”
Consistent for much of the season, the Bobcats have been especially good over the last month, fashioning an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 games to hold a five-point lead over the second-place North Iowa Outlaws in the Central with eight games to play.
“Our specialty teams were very good in February, especially our PK,” said Pool. “We have a lot of unsung heroes on our penalty kill who really get it done every night.”
Among them forwards Casey Kleisinger and twins Jeff and Kevin Harris, along with Devin Schmitt, John Avino, Myles Harvey and Tony Turgeon on the defensive end.
“These guys don’t get a lot of credit in the press, but they’ve bought into their roles on our team,” praised Pool. “The contributions they make every night can’t be overlooked.”
With three points last weekend, Jensen is starting to come into his own. The 19-year-old from Denmark has 10 goals and 17 assists after 35 games, including points in his last seven contests (two goals, six assists).
“Nick is on the verge of becoming a big-time player in the NAHL,” said Pool. “He has all the tools to be a great player. He’s big, strong, can skate and has great hands and vision.
“Probably his biggest asset is his hockey sense. He has a very good understanding of the game and makes players around him better. We knew coming into the season he could be good, we just didn't know how good.”
The same can be said for the men who command Bismarck’s crease, where Bosner, an Air Force recruit, and Matt Grogan have stolen the headlines all season long - and with good reason.
“I don’t think there’s a better 1-2 tandem in the NAHL,” said Pool. “We like to compare them to aces on a pitching staff. We have two good ones so we’re not going to leave one of them on the bench. Whoever is in net, we feel comfortable they’ll get the job done.”
With contributions coming from everywhere, Pool is also quick to praise his fourth line of Will Aide, Joel Lundstrom and Tim Serratore. The unsung trio brings waves of energy to the lineup night in and night out.
“Tim and Will have a lot of jump and have been finishing checks all over the ice, and Lundstrom brings a nice defensive responsibility to the line and a nice scoring touch,” said the coach. “They’ve been scoring some big goals for us lately.”
Jason Fabian, another Air Force recruit who picked up an assist last weekend, is also finding his groove.
“It looks like he’s gotten his second wind, which is really important for us,” said Pool. “He’s a big part of our team and we need to have him at his best going into playoffs.”
To prep for the stretch run, the Bobcats ushered in some experience recently in the form of defenseman Alex Gerke, who was acquired from the USHL, and forward Derek Kimbro, who was picked up from Springfield. Both 20-year-olds have been welcome additions.
“Alex is great offensively and has helped our power play,” said Pool. “And Derek gives us another veteran who has playoff experience. He’s a great teammate and leader.”
Their weekend sweep over Owatonna also secured the Bobcats home-ice advantage in the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs. This from a program on the outside looking in come playoff time just 12 months ago.
“Last year wasn't quite the same,” said Pool. “Don't get me wrong, we had a good group of kids last year, too, but this group of young men has taken the team-first philosophy to a level a coach could only dream of.
“Hockey is a team sport, and this group has realized that fact and, to date, they’ve been rewarded with a good season. The only thing they care about is the win. They realize individual success takes care of itself if the team is having success.
“I wouldn’t trade any player off our team for anyone. Each and every one plays an important role in our success, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of young men to work with.”
Holding some pretty good cards heading into the final weeks of the regular season, the Bobcats have their sights set on continued improvement as they chase a division title and ultimately a berth to the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament.
“Our focus all year has been worrying about the process and not the result,” said Pool. “We want to get better everyday we step on the ice, and we feel that if we come to the rink and play our team-first system and outwork the opposition, we have as good as chance as the other team to win.
“The biggest thing for us is not to look too far ahead. We have Albert Lea this weekend, which is playing good hockey right now, and that’s our only focus.”
And if the wins keep coming, Pool is hoping more schools take notice of his players’ college potential, especially given his club’s team-first mantra.
“We’re receiving a little bit of interest in some of our 20-year-olds, but I’d like to see more,” said the coach, who already has four players committed to D-I programs. “I think we have some hidden gems out here in North Dakota.
“We’re a first-place hockey team full of players who are unselfish and good defensively, and I think some of our guys would have better stats if they didn’t place the team's success ahead of their own.
“We have players that I know, if given the opportunity to play Division I hockey, would reward that coaching staff tenfold with their effort and play.”
AROUND THE NAHL
ALASKA AVALANCHE: Minnesota native Jake Parenteau connected for two goals and three assists as the Avs skated to a 2-2 record last week.
ALBERT LEA THUNDER: Goaltender Tom Lescovich stopped 54 shots as the Thunder downed the Outlaws on Sunday, 4-1
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Anton Norman, Joe Knoepke and Jon Swavely scored for the Blizzard as it dropped a pair of games to North Iowa.
ALPENA ICEDIGGERS: Kyle Hughes’ overtime goal lifted the IceDiggers to a 3-1 triumph over the U.S. Under-17 Team on Saturday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Nick Jensen potted a goal and two assists as the Bobcats skated to a two-game sweep over Owatonna. “Nick had a great weekend for us,” said head coach Byron Pool. “He’s really turned things up the last couple of months. We need him to continue to improve for us to do well.”
FAIRBANKS ICE DOGS: Goaltender Joe Phillippi backstopped the Ice Dogs to a 2-1 record against Wenatchee, including a 28-save shutout performance on Thursday (3-0).
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS: Ryan Lemke recorded a hat trick in the Brown Bears’ 5-4 loss to Wichita Falls on Friday.
MAHONING VALLEY PHANTOMS: Second-year forward Stefan Salituro, from Willowdale, Ontario, has committed to Robert Morris University (CHA) for next season.
MARQUETTE RANGERS: Goaltender Mike Jarboe, who started the season with Wichita Falls, picked up his first win with the Rangers on Saturday, making 22 saves in a 6-2 triumph over Motor City.
MOTOR CITY MACHINE: Netminder Joe Moore stopped 24 shots in regulation and overtime and all five in the shootout as the Machine bested Marquette on Friday, 3-2.
NORTH IOWA OUTLAWS: Keegan Asmundson backstopped the Outlaws to a pair of wins over Alexandria last weekend, turning aside 44 of 47 shots. “It’s a cliché, but goaltending is so important in the playoffs and both Keegan and Tom Callaghan are always going to give us a chance to win,” said head coach Jeff Crouse.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Zach Vierling connected for a pair of goals in the Express’ 4-3 shootout loss to Bismarck on Saturday.
SPRINGFIELD JR. BLUES: Red-hot Jon Gaffney connected for four goals and an assist as the Jr. Blues skated to a two-game sweep over Albert Lea. The New Jersey product has 19 points in his last eight games (11 goals, eight assists).
ST. LOUIS BANDITS: Union College-bound Keith Kinkaid was named the GDI Goaltender of the Month for February after forging a 5-1 record to compliment a 1.00 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage.
TOPEKA ROADRUNNERS: Jordan George and Bryon Paulazzo each tallied two goals and two assists as the RoadRunners skated to a 1-1-1 mark against Alaska. “Jordan is a gifted player in the offensive zone, but what gets overlooked is how he contributes defensively,” said head coach Scott Langer. “And Bryon is magician with the puck, but he’s grown into a strong, physical presence as well.”
TRAVERSE CITY NORTH STARS: Dan Radke struck for a goal and two assists as the North Stars dropped two games to the U.S. Under-18 Team. He has points in his last four games (two goals, five assists).
TEAM USA: The Under-18 and Under-17 Teams combined to post a 4-0-1 record against Alpena and Traverse City last weekend.
WENATCHEE WILD: Defenseman Brandon Burrell scored the only goal of the shootout in the Wild’s 6-5 triumph over Fairbanks on Saturday.
WICHITA FALLS WILDCATS: Goaltender Phil Graveline backstopped the Wildcats to all three of their wins last week, stopping 65 of 58 shots. “Phil came up with some big saves for us when we needed them,” said head coach John Bowkus.