Minotauros toss aside the division-leading Bobcats, 5-2
The party atmosphere at Maysa Arena Saturday night was enhanced by nearly a thousand teddy bears, a rare chuck-a-puck winner and eventually a 5-2 rivalry win for the Minot Minotauros over the Bismarck Bobcats.
The Minotauros (15-6-3) moved to within three points of Central Division leaders, currently being occupied by the Bobcats (17-5-2) and the Aberdeen Wings (15-4-6).
“A good night all around,” Minotauros head coach Marty Murray said. “We mark this one on our calendars every year with the Teddy Bear Toss… It was a nice win coming off the disappointment of last night (with a 4-3 loss on the road).”
The anxious crowd patiently waited 16-plus minutes before Sam Skinner gave them the go-ahead to cause an ambush.
After Skinner poached a rebound for the Minotauros’ first goal, a fluffy storm of teddy bears flew over the glass and onto the ice surface.
“For us, the biggest fear is not getting a goal,” Murray said. “So, it’s nice to get one in the first period.”
The annual Teddy Bear Toss event collected 939 stuffed animals to be donated to the Minot Police department and the Minot Domestic Violence Crisis Center.
Once the ice was cleared off, Minot rode that momentum to another goal by Kyler Kleven just 15 seconds after Skinner’s tally.
Minot led 2-0 after the first period following Kleven’s 10th goal of the season.
Kleven doubled up with another goal five minutes into the second period. He lifted the puck up and over the blocker of Bobcats goaltender Andrew Miller, 3-0.
At the other end of the ice, Minotauros goaltender Ben Garrity was seemingly everywhere to keep Bismarck off the scoreboard. Garrity made a handful of impressive saves and also got a little help from the crossbar and post.
“Bismarck has a strong group that keeps coming at you,” Murray said. “(Garrity) made some big saves. He is a premier goalie in this league, we feel. He stood tall again tonight.”
The physicality picked up in the second half of the second period.
A questionable call in front of the Minotauros’ bench sent Jack Westlund to the penalty box for roughing. On the ensuing Bismarck power play, Garrity made a point-blank rebound save that ignited a 2-on-1 breakaway the other way.
Joseph Harguindeguy slipped the puck over to Minotauros captain Cole O’Connell for his second shorthanded goal of the season.
“I heard Jo-Jo (Harguindeguy) coming on my right side, and I didn’t really think it would be him,” O’Connell said. “But, I looked over my shoulder and he was there. He gave (the puck) right back and it was a perfect play.”
From a perfect play to a perfect shot, during the second intermission, a young boy wearing a retro Wayne Gretzky jersey won $274 by making the chuck-a-puck shot from the blue line into a small cut-out slit in the middle of the net.
Maysa Arena erupted once again.
“I saw that little Gretzky out there — we might have to sign him down the road,” Murray joked.
Jack Olsen ruined Garrity’s shutout bid with his first career goal for the Bobcats with 17:46 remaining. Ten minutes later, Bismarck cut into the lead once again with a goal by Austin Jouppi, 4-2.
Getting that goal back, O’Connell finished off a 3-on-1 breakaway with 3:28 remaining to cap the final score at 5-2.
The Bobcats outshot the Minotauros 44-31, but Garrity got the first-star treatment by making 42 saves.
“(Garrity) is fantastic every night,” O’Connell said. “He does his best, and it’s unreal having him. He saves us all the time.”
Next up, the Minotauros host the defending NAHL champions, the Aberdeen Wings, on Tuesday at Maysa Arena. Puck drop at 7:05 p.m.
Alex Eisen covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.