After a dismal inaugural season, the Minotauros entered their second year with questions as to whether Minot could field a competitive team in the North American Hockey League.
But those concerns were put to rest with a 26-30-4 regular season and a berth in the Central Division playoffs. The Tauros played in front of 1,376 fans in the program's first playoff home game and 1,218 in their postseason finale, pointing toward a bright future.
"It was a pretty decent season," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "Considering where we were this time last season, to come in and make the playoffs was a pretty good thing for us."
Denis Dalidovich (12), Jadin Martin (16), Jake Clifford (28), Steven Sherman (21) and Scott Dornbrock (7) skate off the ice following Dalidovich’s goal in a game against Coulee Region earlier this season. The Tauros finished the 2012-13 regular season 26-30-4 and earned a playoff berth. Photo courtesy of Colin Thompson.
A 20-win improvement from last season was just one of many highlights for the Tauros. Minot had seven players - second most in the NAHL - selected to the top prospects tournament in Troy, Mich., and goaltender Tyler Parks became the Tauros' first NCAA Division I commitment. Parks signed with St. Lawrence University (N.Y.) of the ECAC, a conference that includes national runner-up Quinnipiac (Conn.).
"(The season) was lots of fun," Tauros forward Cameron Rowat said. "It was pretty successful based on how the team did last year. We had a good group of guys."
Parks appeared in 39 regular season games, recording an 18-17-3 record with a 2.79 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. The 6-foot-6 goalie started all four playoff games against Austin (Minn.), posting a 1.65 GAA and .950 save percentage - both fifth-best among playoff goaltenders.
Ryan Ruck is expected to be the Tauros starting goaltender next year, but Murray said the team will look for a quality backup to push the Coto de Caza, Calif., native for ice time. Ruck was 8-11-2 with a 2.94 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
Parks is not the only player the Tauros will have to replace next season. Defensemen Matt Audette and Paul Sorenson will play for Division III programs next season. Audette has committed to Wisconsin-Superior and Sorenson is still mulling his options. Audette was the only Tauro to play in all 64 games this year.
"They mean a lot to our team," Murray said. "They played big roles with us. They are not easy to replace, but we hope some of the players will continue to develop into big-time players."
Minot's season was a roller-coaster ride from start to finish. The Tauros struggled out of the gate, losing their first seven games of the season and 11 of their first 14. But things came together in November and continued into January. Minot recorded a franchise record six-game winning streak during that span and climbed above the .500 mark.
Injuries plagued Minot down the stretch as team captain Tim Donohue, scoring leader Jake O'Borsky and Parks, among others, missed time nursing bumps and bruises. March was particularly unkind to Minot as it lost eight of 10 games during the month while trying to hold of Aberdeen (S.D.) for the final playoff spot in the division. It took 57 games for the Tauros to wrap up their first trip to the postseason.
"One area we lacked was goal scoring," Murray said. "That was evident in the playoffs. Generally the progression is your stats are supposed to increase. But overall I was pretty happy with our group. We believe we can compete with anybody."
The Tauros averaged 2.52 goals per game during the regular season, but could only muster five goals in four playoff games.
"We need to score some more goals," Rowat said. "That can come from within the team. Marty does really well finding guys that will be able to help us score goals."
Rowat was third on the team in scoring with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) during the regular season and added a goal and an assist in the playoffs.
The road to the 2014 Robertson Cup begins May 17 with the beginning of the pre-draft camp in Las Vegas. The NAHL draft takes place on June 4, with the Tauros owning seven picks in the first three rounds. Camp opens June 21 in Vadnais Heights, Minn.