By: Ken Oda, minotauroshockey.com
Aberdeen, SD – The Minotauros continue to hold an eight point lead on Brookings Blizzard for the final playoff spot in the Central Division. Tonight’s opponent the Aberdeen Wings kept the Blizzard from gaining on the Tauros with a 6-1 victory last night in Aberdeen, but in doing so moved 14 points ahead of the Tauros for third place in the Central. When these teams met last Thursday the Tauros jumped out to a big lead in the first period. Jake Howie, Jon Lizotte, and Troy Degler; each tallied to get the Tauros out to a 3-0 lead. The offense then dried up however and the Wings rattled off six unanswered tallies to take the game 6-3.
Last weekend withstanding the Tauros have done a good job of keeping the puck out of their net this year. Even with the poor showing last weekend the Tauros still rank 11th in the NAHL allowing 2.70 goals against per game. That number decreases to 2.53 and 9th when subtracting empty netters. The goaltending tandem of Brandon Wildung (.918 sv%, 2.43 GAA) and Merrick Madsen (.909 sv%, 2.62 GAA) has played well behind a Tauros defense that is sending two defensemen to the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament next week. Lizotte and Scott Dornbrock will both play for the Central Division all-star team next week, and though they played most of the season paired together the duo has been split in recent week in the hope of balancing the defensive group.
For Tauros fans the most exciting aspect of tonight’s game has to be the debut of Michael Louria. Louria, who has 19 goals and 21 assists was acquired a little over a week ago from Janesville in exchange for defenseman Michael Bigelbach, who would have been the third Tauros d-man to go to Top Prospects. At the time he was acquired, Louria was the NAHL’s sixth leading scorer; and even while missing last weekend’s game he sits in 10th despite playing fewer games than everyone in front of him. Skating on a line with Luke Voltin who had 14 points for the USHL’s Lincoln Stars before being acquired last weekend should give the Tauros a formidable first line.
As for the opponent, the Tauros are 5-6-0 against Aberdeen with a chance to even the season set tonight in the final meeting of the year. Five of the earlier meetings in the season have been one goal games, the Tauros are 3-2-0 in those, the rest have been decided by at least three goals. The Tauros will need to find a way to slow down Jonathan Grebosky who has 12 of his 30 points on the season against Minot. In net, Chad Catt and Henry Dill have posted very similar 2.17 and 2.19 GAAs against the Tauros respectively.
After last weekend’s three games, in three cities, in three nights, tonight’s lone game on the weekend presents a chance for the Tauros to recover and push their lead over Brookings to double digits with the final month of the season approaching. After tonight the Tauros will return home to host the Minnesota Wilderness and closeout the out of division schedule. It will also mark the final two games that the Tauros will wear their red, white, and blue jerseys to support Team USA in Sochi. The jerseys will be auctioned off after the game on Saturday night, with bidding already open via internet here.