Not on our watch

Minotauros survive late scare for 3-2 win

Justin Martinez/MDN Minotauros’ Matthew Gellerman attempts to progress the puck while Aberdeen defenseman closes in during a home game against the Wings Saturday at the Maysa Arena.

With the game on the line, Minotauros goaltender Nicholas Grabko was a brick wall.

Grabko kept the Minotauros (16-7) anchored in their thrilling 3-2 win over Aberdeen (13-5) on Saturday at the Maysa Arena. The goaltender secured 31 saves in the win, including 17 in the third period on a night where his team needed every last one of them.

“It felt like a playoff game,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “It was a real back-and-forth game, but we put up a really gutsy effort defensively against a good (Aberdeen) team.”

After falling to the Wings on Friday by a score of 4-2, both the Minotauros and their fans came out looking for revenge. Minot played the aggressor in the early going, keeping the puck on Aberdeen’s side of the ice.

“We wanted to come out strong, which we didn’t do on Friday,” Grabko said. “We don’t like (Aberdeen) and this is our home, so we wanted to protected it.”

But that intensity gradually turned into frustration as the Minotauros failed to cash in on a number of quality looks at the net in the first period. With 12 minutes in the books, the score remained deadlocked at zero.

That’s when things got crazy.

Forward Cole O’Connell finally put the first point on the board, unleashing a shot that bounced off the Aberdeen goaltender’s glove and fell into the back of the net, giving the Minotauros a 1-0 lead with 8:34 left in the opening period. The goal marked O’Connell’s first with the team.

It took just under two minutes for the Minotauros to pad their lead as a shot by Wilmer Skoog clanked off the crossbar. Forward David Raisanen was there to clean up the miss, though, collecting the loose puck and scoring.

But Aberdeen got the last laugh of the first period, scoring two minutes later to cut Minot’s lead in half and cap off a wild scoring spree that saw a combined three goals in four minutes.

Despite each team having power play opportunities, the score remained 2-1 at the end of the second period. Grabko kept the Wings out of the back off the net, recording nine saves in the second period alone.

“(Grabko) has established himself as the number one goalie in our league,” Murray said. “He’s able to stay so calm back there, and that kind of brings a calming feeling to the rest of our guys. He just brings a lot to this team.”

The Minotauros leaned on Grabko’s composure once more in the third period when things got crazy again.

Minot’s defense finally broke with 18:19 left in the third period as Aberdeen’s Jonathan Bendorf scored a goal to knot the game at 2-2 and give him his 100th career NAHL point.

Things got chippy moments later as a fight broke out between Minot’s Fritz Belisle and Aberdeen’s Jake Beaune, taking both players out for the remainder of the game.

It took just one minute for Belisle to get some company as O’Connell got handed a double minor for high sticking, leaving the Minotauros in a 4-on-5 disadvantage.

The Wings went on the attack, racking up five shots on goal during the power play. But Grabko held his ground, saving each strike to keep the game tied.

“We just kept battling really hard,” Grabko said. “Even though we had some penalty trouble, we just played smart and kept trying to work (Aberdeen).”

With Minot back at full strength, it was the Minotauros’ turn to go on the attack. After a number of close calls, Skoog finally delivered the difference maker, scoring on a laser beam of a shot from around 15 feet out to give Minot a 3-2 lead with 9:12 left in the game.

The score proved to be the game-winning goal as the Minotauros went back to playing lockdown defense to secure the 3-2 victory.

Next up for the Minotauros is a road match against the Austin Bruins on Friday. For Minot, the team will be looking to carry Saturday’s same defensive intensity into a battle between the top two teams in the Central Division.

“Nothing is easy in this division,” Murray said. “It’s a battle every night, and Austin is another tough opponent. We’ll enjoy this win for 24 hours, and then we’ll shift our focus to Austin.”

Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.