After one period in Aberdeen on Thursday, the Minot Minotauros looked like a team well on their way toward a successful three-game weekend.
But then everything went terribly wrong as the Tauros fell apart at both ends of the ice in the final eight periods. Minot tallied three goals in the first period against the Wings, but was outscored 14-2 the rest of the weekend.
The Tauros came away without a point after a 6-3 loss to Aberdeen and 3-1 and 5-1 losses in a home-and-home with Bismarck on Friday and Saturday.
"After that first period on Thursday, for about eight consecutive periods we did a lot of spectating and forgot what gave us success," Minot coach Marty Murray said. "We got away from everything we've done. We forgot our brains in the locker room."
Minot (19-26-3) hasn't been one to lean on its offense. Its 2.15 goals per game are the lowest in the Central Division and second-worst in the North American Hockey League - only Odessa averages fewer goals (2.11).
Defense is more of the Tauros' bread and butter, but even that struggled over the weekend. Minot entered the three-game slate allowing 2.57 goals per contest and hadn't surrendered more than four goals in a game since Nov. 15 against Bismarck. Now, the Tauros have allowed four-plus goals in two of their last three games.
"It was a tough weekend," Murray said. "Not what we were looking for at all. Very disappointing. We have to find a way to regroup."
The Tauros fared better Friday at home against the Bobcats, playing within 2-1 before Bismarck added an empty-net goal with 35 seconds left. Minot held a 30-24 shot advantage.
That effort didn't make the trip to Bismarck as the Bobcats dismantled the Tauros. Bismarck scored five unanswered goals in the first two periods and outshot Minot 39-18. The Tauros were 0-for-6 on the power play.
"Friday, we didn't give our best effort, but we were somewhat better," Murray said. "Saturday, I was disappointed. We got beaten up throughout the game."
The Tauros are now 12 points back of Aberdeen for the third spot in the division after the Wings posted three wins over the weekend. Minot did catch a break with Brookings losing both if its games. The Tauros hold an eight-point lead over the Blizzard for the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining - the final four against Brookings.
"We need to realize it's crunch time and everyone's scratching for playoff position," Murray said. "Points are a lot harder to come by in February and March than in October and November."
Beavers host Wildcats as season nears end
The last time Minot State men's club hockey team played the University of Arizona, the 10th-ranked Beavers were in the midst of a dismal stretch.
MSU entered its first meeting of the season with the 12th-ranked Wildcats having dropped a 6-5 heartbreaker to Williston State in a shootout and an emotionally draining 2-1 defeat at top-ranked Arizona State. Arizona clipped the Beavers 3-2, handing MSU coach Wade Regier his first loss to the Wildcats since he took over the program.
The Beavers (19-6-4) regrouped the next night, defeating the Wildcats 5-3 only to lose the following games at Iowa State. With this past week off to heal bumps and bruises, Regier is stressing the importance of finishing strong.
"The biggest thing is they're a good team and there's going to be some adversity," Regier said. "It's going to be a tight game. Those are good tune-up games because that's ultimately what you're going to get at the national tournament. We're going to play similar skill sets as teams like Arizona and it's going to be interesting to see how we handle that."
The two-game series, beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Maysa Arena, has major national tournament implications for both teams. Twenty teams qualify for the post season, with Navy (Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association champion), Adrian (Great Lake Collegiate Hockey League champion) and Delaware (host) having already punched their ticket. Both teams are fighting to remain in the top 12, assuring them a first-round bye in the tournament.
"It's going to be an interesting game because we're fighting to keep inside the top 12 and they're trying to do the same," Regier said. "It's going to be a playoff atmosphere and it's exciting that they're coming back to Minot."
Landing a top-12 seed would give the Beavers the first two days of the tournament off. Falling outside the top 12 would mean playing on the tournament's first day and again on the next against a top-four seed.
While the national tournament is less than a month away, the Beavers know they won't have to worry about falling out of the top 12 if they take care of business against the Wildcats (15-19) this weekend. A big factor could be the home-ice advantage for MSU as Arizona makes the 1,650-mile journey to Minot.
"For us it's huge," Regier said of playing at home. "We want to prepare ourselves. We're sleeping in our own beds, we're getting a full week of practice. Usually when we fly out to Arizona, we skip a practice of two because of the travel days. The other thing is our crowds have been so big this year. The guys hopefully will be prepared for it and use the crowd to their advantage."
Tauros make moves at deadline
In an attempt to boost an offense in need of another quality goal scorer, the Minot Minotauros traded for Janesville forward Michael Louria on Tuesday at the trade deadline. The Tauros also acquired Luke Voltin from the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars of the United States Hockey League.
In exchange for Louria, the Tauros sent defenseman Michael Bigelbach and Port Huron's first-round pick they acquired earlier this season to Janesville. Louria was the sixth-leading scorer in the league at the time of the trade with 19 goals and 21 assists in 41 games.
"He's obviously a dynamic player and we haven't really had that," Minot coach Marty Murray said. "Our guys work hard, but we need more production. We gave up a great kid in Michael Bigelbach, but we have to give up something good to get something good in return."
Louria - a Division I commit to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell - will help Minot's struggling power play as well. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound forward had nine goals and seven assists with the Jets' power-play unit.
Voltin jumped around the USHL in his three years in the league. He played with Team USA and Des Moines before landing in Lincoln. He compiled three goals and 11 assists in 33 games with Des Moines and has 54 career points (17 g, 37 a) in 128 games.
Voltin is a University of North Dakota commit.
Mike Kraft covers high school athletics and hockey. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.