Minotauros eliminated with 4-3 OT loss in Game 5

Ryan Ladika/MDN Kyle Kukkonen, pictured from Minot's May 28 Game 4 victory, led all Minotauros skaters with five points (three goals and two assists), during the series against Aberdeen.

The Minotauros knew the cards were stacked against them. Minot goaltender Keenan Rancier said it himself following his team’s come-from-behind, double-overtime Game 3 victory over the Aberdeen Wings Thursday night.

“After two losses, we have nothing to lose. We’re supposed to lose to this team. We have no pressure on us right now, all we have to do is go out there, have fun and try our best.”

That they certainly did. The Minotauros left everything they had on the ice in a series that required all five games and three total overtime periods to decide its victor. Aberdeen had its hands full with the free-and-easy-playing Minotauros throughout the first round of the 2021 Robertson Cup Playoffs, but a series victory against the first-place Wings proved a bit too tall a task for Minot following its 4-3 overtime Game 5 defeat at the Odde Ice Center Sunday night.

Having won just two of 12 total meetings during the regular season, the Minotauros cranked up their performance on the ice. As they had in four of the five games during the series, Aberdeen jumped on the scoreboard first behind a power play goal by Nico DeVita just under six minutes into the first period. Two more Wings scores bookended Minot’s first goal of the game in the second period, courtesy of Damon Zimmer, putting the Minotauros in a two-goal ditch entering the third period.

Ethan Schmunk inched Minot a bit closer five minutes and 44 seconds into the third frame, when he received a pass in front of the crease from Robert Kincaid along the left wall and scored from point-blank range to cut Aberdeen’s lead to 3-2.

Despite the score, Aberdeen clamped down defensively during a third period that saw Minot record just six total shots on net. The Minotauros were staring a season-ending regulation defeat in the face until Kyle Kukkonen staved off elimination for at least one more period.

Will Crull received the puck off a faceoff at the top of the right circle in the Aberdeen zone and hesitated for a moment before dishing it to the top of the slot to Kukkonen. From just inside the blue line, the forward unleashed a quick one-time shot that sailed past Wings goalie Jake Sibell for his third goal of the series and knotting the score at three.

“They were just really tired but they wanted to win and they wanted to give themselves a chance, and they kept their heads up and they kept going,” head coach Shane Wagner said of the team’s third period. “19 more seconds and we’re coming out for a second overtime, and who knows what happens? But I think the guys really wanted to show that they could play with the best team in the league, and they did.”

Already having faced 37 shots in regulation, Rancier took his place between the pipes for the series’ third overtime period in the last three games. The Minotauros’ goalie made 12 more saves as he and Sibell once again stood toe-to-toe in the extra period.

It was the Wings’ 13th shot of the period, coming with only 19 seconds on the clock from Kyle Gaffney’s stick in the left circle, that trickled through Rancier and across the red line, and with it, the clock struck 12 on Minot’s bid for a Cinderella series.

Rancier finished the postseason with 33 or more saves in all five games, and having turned aside at least 43 shots in three of the five games for a total of 229 saves on 244 shots against. Kyle Kukkonen led the Minotauros on the scoresheet with three goals and two assists, and Blaine Warnert, on the strength of his Game 4 hat trick, paced the squad in goals with four.

Counting their two defeats to Minot in the series, Aberdeen had lost just seven total games during the 2020-21 season through Sunday night, four of which came at the hands of the Minotauros.

“I’m just real proud of them,” Wagner said. “They had to dig deep and we were running on fumes. We had to play a lot of guys a lot of heavy minutes and they battled deep. That team’s good. They’re four lines strong and they compete, and our guys gave them a good run for their money.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today