The playoffs are less than two weeks away, and the Minot Minotauros are looking to enter the postseason with some momentum.
The Tauros finish their regular season schedule with a weekend series at the Brookings Blizzard, beginning Friday at 7:15 p.m. The teams split a pair of games in Minot last weekend. The Blizzard took a 4-3 decision Friday, and the Tauros countered with a 4-1 victory Saturday.
"This weekend's really just about fine-tuning our game and getting all the little things put together, prepping yourself for playoffs and at least getting on a little bit of a streak," Minot forward Tyler Shipstad said.
Michael Louria (15), Troy Degler and the rest of the Minot Minotauros head to Brookings this weekend looking for some momentum going into the playoffs.
Minot (23-32-3) is 6-4 against Brokings this season and 3-1 at the Larson Ice Center. Neither team is playing for points as all four playoff spots have been claimed in the North American Hockey League Central Division. The Tauros are the four seed while the Blizzard's season ends Saturday.
Momentum is something Minot's been lacking the past two months as the Tauros haven't put together two straight wins since Jan. 24-25 against Aberdeen. They are 5-12 since.
"We're just trying to get some momentum going before the playoffs," Minot forward Michael Louria said. "It would be a lot easier if we got some steam going into those first two games."
It's unclear how Brookings will approach its final two games. Being in front of its home crowd will give the Blizzard some extra motivation despite the 9-15-4 mark they have in their own barn. Their nine home wins is tied with Odessa for the fewest in the league.
"We definitely expect a lot of physical play," Shipstad said. "You never know if it will get a little feisty, but they're definitely going to be physical and get their fans into it."
Tauros coach Marty Murray was in Manitoba, Canada, for the day and was not available for comment.
Playing at Maysa Arena is nothing new for Quinn Fuchs, yet he was nervous when stepping onto the ice Friday night.
He had played countless games at that venue, but they were all for the Minot Magicians. Now, Fuchs had traded in his No. 9 Magicians sweater and was playing for the first time as a member of the Tauros.
In two games against the Blizzard, Fuchs recorded an assist, a shot and a penalty. All three came in Minot's 4-1 victory on Saturday.
"The speed and the strength on the ice is different," Fuchs said. "You definitely have to get in the play more and battle in the corners."
Fuchs will play his final two games this season on Friday and Saturday when the Tauros travel to Brookings. He said his new team has helped him with the transition from high school hockey to junior hockey.
"All the guys have been great," he said. "The whole team is great and everyone around me has been awesome this past month."
Fuchs won't be eligible to play in the postseason since he wasn't on the active roster at the end of the trade deadline in February.
Louria heating up
The Tauros acquired Janesville's Michael Louria at the trade deadline, hoping he would supply a shot in the arm to their offense.
It took a few games, but Louria is doing just that. The Massachusetts-Lowell commit scored four goals in his last two games, including a natural hat trick in Minot's 4-3 loss to Brookings on Friday. He scored the game-winning goal the next night.
"I'm shooting the puck more," Louria said. "I really wasn't shooting it too much before. I'm just finding the seams in the ice and it's going in, thankfully."
Louria is tied for 12th in league scoring with 49 points (25 goals, 24 assists). He's Minot's top scorer by far as defenseman Jon Lizotte is second on the team with 25 points (10 g, 15 a).
In 11 games with the Tauros, Louria has six goals and three assists.
"It didn't take long," Louria said of the adjustment period. "Playing with the guys I do makes it easy out there."
Austin, Aberdeen fighting for
With just two games left in the regular season, the Tauros still don't know who they will play in the first round of the playoffs beginning April 4.
That's because the Central Division title has yet to be decided. The Austin Bruins - the defending division champions - lead the Aberdeen Wings by one point. The Bruins would clinch the top seed with a win at Bismarck on Friday coupled with an Aberdeen loss at Wenatchee.
The Tauros lost to the Bruins in four games in the first round of last year's playoffs, winning game two in Austin before losing both games at home. Minot was 2-6 against Austin this season and 5-7 against Aberdeen.
Mike Kraft covers Minot High athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State men's club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.