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Minotauros fall 2-0 to Brahmas in season-opener

Ryan Ladika/MDN Goaltender Carter Clafton makes a save during pregame warmups prior to the Minotauros’ March 19 game against the Aberdeen Wings. Clafton saved 20 of 21 shots in the loss Wednesday night.

The Minot Minotauros had to wait 108 days after their heartbreaking, season-ending 4-3 overtime loss to the Aberdeen Wings in Game 5 of the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs May 30, but the offseason finally concluded Wednesday evening with the commencement of the 2021-22 campaign in Blaine, Minnesota.

Minot began the new season with the first of four games in the 2021 NAHL Showcase at the Schwann Super Rink, and emerged on the losing end of a 2-0 defensive struggle against the Lone Star Brahmas.

“I thought we played okay, we made some early-season mistakes, for sure, which both teams did, so it offsets a little bit,” new Minotauros head coach Cody Campbell said after his coaching debut with the team. “I’d just like to see us be a little bit hungrier when we get chances in prime scoring areas. I think if we’re able to bear down just a touch more, the result of the game might change a little bit.”

The Minotauros’ overhauled roster from the 2020-21 season, per the team’s official website, includes 20 players with a ‘rookie’ designation, as well as two new netminders and one returner in the wake of the since-departed Keenan Rancier: Carter Clafton and rookies Zach Sandy and Thomas Kiesewetter.

Clafton, now in his second season with the Minotauros after recording a 3.34 goals-against average, an .899 save percentage and one shutout in 12 games last season, earned the nod in the season-opener and performed well. Despite the lack of offensive support in front of him, the Grand Rapids, Minnesota native stopped 20 of the 21 total shots that came his way.

The lone goal he surrendered came in the second period’s final minute, when Artur Turansky threw a try Clafton’s way and Nicholas Niemo cleaned up the rebound on the right side of the open net before he and Minot defenseman Colby Woogk barreled into the netminder.

Clafton quickly shook off the play and contributed a stellar third frame, turning aside all four Brahmas shots he faced before Niemo potted his second score of the night into the empty Minotauros net with 13 seconds to play.

“He’s a really good veteran presence back there,” Campbell said of his goaltender. “He slowed things down for us when they needed to be slowed down. It was nice for Carter to have a good game. It obviously was not the result that he wanted out of it, but he played solid and it should be a really good step forward for him.”

The newest Minot head coach and general manager did not commit to Clafton as the Minotauros’ starting netminder, pointing instead to his desire to let Sandy and Kiesewetter prove themselves between the pipes as well.

“We have high expectations for Carter,” he continued. “Guys will get what they earn with us and our staff. If Carter earns the opportunity to take most of the time in net, then good for him, but we’ve got two other good goalies here who he’s going to be competing with.”

The team showed signs of offensive life throughout the contest as well, even though it ultimately could not find the back of the net. Minot outshot the Brahmas in every frame and finished with a 30-22 advantage over its opponent in the category. The Minotauros simply could not solve stingy Lone Star goalie Graham Burke, who posted a .917 save percentage and 2.18 GAA in 37 games with the Brahmas last season.

“We just need to calm down a little bit,” Campbell said. “I think we were really excited for this hockey game, and we let that creep in to when we had chances. I believe the boys will be pretty hungry tomorrow and also a majority of them will have a game under their belts here now this season, which will make things a little bit easier.”

The Minotauros will have a quick turnaround for their next game, with puck drop scheduled for 11:15 a.m. Thursday morning against the Corpus Christi IceRays.

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