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Wings clinch playoff spot in win over Bismarck

Jackson Yee, of the Aberdeen Wings, center, tries to get the puck past Bismarck Bobcats’ goalie Oskar Spinnars Nordin, left, during Friday night’s game at the Odde Ice Center. Behind Yee for the Bobcats is Trevor Mitchell. Photo by John Davis taken 4/1/2022

It’s official: the Aberdeen Wings are headed back to the North American Hockey League playoffs.

The Wings secured their spot in the post season with a 3-2 victory over the Bismarck Bobcats Friday night at the Odde Ice Center.

Mason Kelly scored his first goal of the season, which turned out to be the game-winner in the playoff-clinching victory.

“It’s really important for me entering the juniors for the first time and making the playoffs which is just amazing,” Kelly said.

Kelly understands the tradition of the local squad, which includes a Robertson Cup championship as well as a runner-up finish.

“It’s a very strong franchise,” Kelly said. “I’m kind of hoping to keep that moving.”

The Wings got off a to slow start against the Bobcats and were outshot early in the game. Fortunately for the home squad it was still scoreless at that stage.

“We did a great job of weathering the storm,” said Wings forward Jackson Yee. “We had a lot of blocked shots in those first 10 minutes and after that we just calmed down after that break in the period. We calmed down, and then we just came out and played Wings hockey.”

Hugo Gustafsson put Aberdeen in front right after that 10-minute mark. The Wings played with the lead until Bismarck tied the game early in the second period.

Yee then was the recipient of a no-look pass from teammate Cade Neilson for a picture-perfect goal to put the Wings back in front.

“He’s a pass-first type player, so I knew it was coming,” Yee said of Neilson. “He wasn’t looking at me, but he’s pretty deceptive like that. I knew it was coming, and I just prepared for it and got it off quick.”

Yee was also involved in Kelly’s goal, putting a shot on goal that ricocheted off the goalie right to Kelly who pounced on it for his initial goal of the season.

“Jackson Yee got the puck and he just chipped it right at the goalie,” Kelly said. “It was fumbling around. I started racing at the net and I whacked it in.”

That set off a celebration that Kelly will likely remember for a long time.

“It was waiting for a while,” Kelly said of his first goal, ” but it felt great having everyone screaming and yelling.”

That turned out to be the game-winner as the Bobcats closed to within one goal later in the period, but neither squad was able to score in the final period, each just missing goals by inches.

The contest proved to be a typical intense contest in the Central Division where teams are separated by mere points in the standings.

Linesman Jacob Rozenberg, left, gets a stick to the face as he tries to move in and break up a fight between Hugo Gustafsson, of the Aberdeen Wings and Blaise Miller, of the Bismarck Bobcats during Friday night’s game at the Odde Ice Center. Photo by John Davis taken 4/1/2022

When asked what it took to win those close one-goal games, Yee responded, “It comes down to really the defensive stuff, how much do you want it. Blocked shots are huge, getting pucks out of the ‘D’ zone is huge. I think it comes down to those two things, really.”

Aberdeen plays at Bismarck tonight before closing out the season with four games against Austin, two in Minnesota next weekend before two home games the following weekend to close out the regular season.

Despite the fact that the Wings are now in the playoffs, each of the remaining games still carries significance.

“That’s the big thing that we’re going for now is just home-ice advantage,” Yee said. “We want to clinch that first-second spot in the division, because home-ice advantage is huge going into the playoffs.”

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