By: Ken Oda, minotauroshockey.com
Bismarck, ND – The Minot Minotauros and Bismarck Bobcats rivalry enters its fifth year and in that time it has become one of the most heated rivalries in the NAHL if not all of the hockey world. The Bobcats dominated the early days of the rivalry as the Tauros struggled through the typical ups and downs of an expansion franchise. Over time the series became more balanced only adding fuel to the fires of the two teams’ hatred for each other. The power began to shift north last season as the Tauros finally showed they were capable of winning in the VFW, and with the Tauros finishing second in the Central and the Bobcats finishing third the teams met for the first time in the postseason. The series was not without drama, but with wins of 4-1, 4-2, and 2-1, the Tauros swept the Bobcats from the playoffs.
Now the 2015-16 versions of the Tauros and Cats will meet for the first time in the regular season after splitting a pair of preseason games last month. The teams come in after drastically different performances at the NAHL Showcase last week in which the Tauros went 3-1-0 and the Bobcats 0-4-0. The Bobcats poor showing in Blaine, MN, however does not mean they are not a dangerous team; the week before the Showcase the Bobcats swept a weekend set with Austin by scores of 6-3 and 3-0. Willie Brown (3g 8a) and Aaron Herdt (4g 5a) lead the Bobcats offense with 20 combined points, only five of which have come on the power play. In net Hunter Shepard has carried the load starting five of the Cat’s six games. The Bobcat’s netminder is 2-3-0 on the season with a 2.42 GAA and .900 SV%.
For the Tauros expect most eyes in the capital city to be on Johnny Walker (3g 4a). The Tauros assistant captain leads the team in scoring with seven points and while he draws the ire of most opposing teams fans is perhaps most hated in Bismarck. Christian Mohs (2g 4a) was an absolute killer against the Bobcats last season with 14 points in 12 games including two shorthanded goals. Chase Springman (2g 4a) posted five goals and five assists against the Cats last season and is currently tied with Mohs for second on the Tauros in scoring. A pair of defensemen James LaDouce (3g 1a) and Jake Dittel (1g 3a) round out the Tauros top five in scoring; their three combined power play goals are a big part of the Tauros fifth ranked power play which converts 21.9% of its chances. In net Jon Flakne and Lucas Murray have split time, no word as of yet who will get the net tonight.
Tonight’s game will be the first of 12 regular season meetings between the Tauros and the Bobcats. Plenty of Tauros fans will make the 110 mile trek from the Magic City to invade the VFW Sportscenter and it will not take long for the new members of either club to feel the heat of the rivalry. The Bobcats come in looking for revenge while the Tauros look to permanently remove the little brother status of the early years by proving last season was not a fluke.