Minotauros undone in Game 4, Aberdeen claims Central Cup

Alex Eisen/MDN Aberdeen goaltender Matt Vernon (30) stops a shot by Minotauros forward Vince Marino (27) in Game 4 of the Central Division finals series Saturday evening in Minot.

The Minot Minotauros wanted redemption for losing in the Robertson Cup championship game last season. Instead, the Aberdeen Wings got their revenge.

A season after losing to Minot in the first round of the NAHL Playoffs, the top-seeded Aberdeen Wings celebrated a 3-1 series win with 4-2 Game 4 victory over the Minotauros at Maysa Arena.

“It always sucks when you don’t win that last game of the season,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “Aberdeen is a great team. I thought we played well tonight. It was a good game and could have gone either way.”

For the first time in the series, the opening period finished scoreless.

Minot forward Didrik Henbrant clipped the post early on, and Fritz Belisle couldn’t capitalize on a quality scoring chance either.

Alex Eisen/MDN Minotauros forward Justin Kelley (right) gets tangled up with Aberdeen's Stepan Pokorny (left) during Saturday's NAHL playoff game at Maysa Arena.

At the other end, the Minotauros were bailed out with a pair of point-blank saves made by goaltender Nicholas Grabko. On the second save, the Aberdeen skater put his hands on top of his helmet in utter disbelief that he hadn’t scored.

Both teams deserved a goal, but the stalemate continued into the second period.

“I’ve played hockey a long time,” Murray said. “This division is hard at our level, every year.”

With 6:32 off the clock in the second period, Wings forward Jonathan Bendorf broke the deadlock with his team-leading sixth goal of the postseason.

The Wings’ lead expanded to 2-0 with 8:11 left in the second period, as Brad Belisle sent a backhander over the shoulder of Grabko.

“Went down 2-0, but we clawed back in it,” Murray said.

Looking for anything to flip the momentum, David Raisanen ignited an anxious Maysa Arena crowd with 31.6 seconds left in the second period. He scored his team-leading fifth goal of the postseason on an odd-man rush due to a Wings turnover in the neutral zone.

Despite outshooting Aberdeen 19-18 through two frames, Minot trailed 2-1 with 20 minutes to save its season.

“I’m more disappointed about last night’s (7-2 defeat) than I am about tonight,” Murray said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win.”

The equalizer came 2:21 into the third period.

Vince Marino stationed himself in front of the goal and buried a puck that had been dug out from behind the Wings’ net. That was the last time Aberdeen goaltender Matt Vernon was beat, he made 25 saves.

Aberdeen took the lead back for the final time with a 2-on-1 breakaway that was started at center ice. Bendorf got on the end of it for his second goal of the game with 9:49 remaining.

Thomas Rocco netted an empty-net goal with 1:24 remaining to start the party early for the Wings.

When the clock struck zero, the Wings stormed the ice to mark the end of the Minotauros’ season.

“Disappointing, but I’m proud of the guys,” Murray said. “We had a heck of a year…. Ultimately, we want to get to the Robertson Cup and win it, but it’s hard to get out of this division. It’s an absolute war every night.”

Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.