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Wings surge into division finals

Jacob Bosse, of the Aberdeen Wings (19) moves with the puck in front of Austin Bruins’ goalie Klayton Knapp, right, during Friday night’s playoff game at Odde Ice Center. Bosse was able to get the puck past Knapp to score on the play. In the foreground for the Wings is Cade Neilson, who got the assist on the goal. Photo by John Davis taken 4/29/2022

It wasn’t that long ago that the Aberdeen Wings were staring at a four-game losing streak with the start of the post season looming less than a week away.

Now, the local squad has gone from trying to right the ship to sailing through the opening round of the NAHL hockey playoffs with bigger things on the horizon.

The Wings own a four-game winning streak which includes a three-game sweep over Austin, a team that gave Aberdeen trouble during the regular season and eventually ended up costing the Wings home-ice advantage with a late-regular season win at the Odde Ice Center.

However, all of that means nothing now as the Wings have found a surge of momentum heading into the Central Division championship series and the Bruins are out of the playoffs.

“I think were just more complete on what we wanted. Our goaltending was spot on,” said Wings coach Steve Jennings of the team’s sweep of Austin. “I thought Anton (Castro) had a tremendous series. Overall, the team really kind of stuck to the game plan for each of the games, which was good.”

Aberdeen played Austin in six of the final eight regular season contests, losing four of them.

While some may have viewed the late-season struggles with the Bruins as a cause for alarm, Wings forward Anthony Galante saw things a bit differently. He said it was more of a blessing in disguise, because after each setback, the squad studied what went wrong and what needed to be fixed.

“It was actually pretty good that we got to see them in a seven-game burst. It showed us what we had to work on, what we had to fix and change for the playoffs,” Galante said. “We lost three games (the last two weeks of the regular season), but we were going to come back very, very strong with the right systems and the winning formula, so that’s what we did.”

As is often the case in rematches in any sport, the team that loses the first encounter often tries to make more adjustments to turn the tide in its favor. That’s what happened with the Wings.

“That’s exactely how it happens,” Galante said. “It was great that it went out that way and now we’re in the next round. So it’s great.”

The Wings have not only made game-to-game adjustments recently, the young players have matured throughout the course of the season.

A case in point came in the series-clinching win over Austin on Friday night when Aberdeen denied one Bruins attempt after another in the early stages of the contest.

“We blocked 12 shots through the first two periods. The guys really were packing it in,” Jennings said following the victory. “When you get in that situation and we had that one extended shift where the guys were out there and they were exhausted, earlier in the year they would have been running out and gotten themselves out of position. Tonight I thought they did a good job of packing the middle and eating pucks, and just making it hard and waiting for the right break to come.”

Aberdeen Wings head coach Steve Jennings, far left, talks to his players during a media timeout in Friday night’s playoff game against the Austin Bruins at the Odde Ice Center. Photo by John Davis taken 4/29/2022

That sign of maturity and growth will likely play a key role as the Wings try to advance through the playoffs and get back to the Robertson Cup finals where they finished runner-up a year ago.

It’s hard to know just how far the Wings will go, but it’s safe to say the squad has a load of momentum and seems to be playing as well as it has all season.

“We haven’t played as complete as we are right now, which is really good and even while we’re playing complete you see little things. Nobodys’ ever happy,” Jennings said. “Like you never say, ‘Yep, we’ve done exactly what we want,’ but I think we’re sticking to our game plan, sticking through adversity. Earlier in the fall particularly, we had especially some of these young who guys didn’t know how to deal with that and they’ve really grown which is good.”

Now, it’s time for the Wings to get back to studying as they prepare for their next opponent, plan out a winning strategy and continue their post-season success. Aberdeen will play the winner of the Bismarck-St. Cloud series which is currently tied at two games apiece. Game five will take place Monday night in St. Cloud.

“We’re going to watch a lot of film and we’re going to find our winning formula for the next series,” Galante said, “and hopefully we do the same thing.”

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