Minotauros season in review
Through their first 54 games of the 2020-21 season, the Minot Minotauros recorded 23 wins and entered their May 14 contest having clinched their eighth consecutive postseason appearance with a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Bismarck Bobcats May 7.
Under the watchful eyes of head coach Shane Wagner and assistant coach Wyatt Waselenchuck, the club failed to match its 27-16-1-6 finish following the 2019-20 campaign, but its 23-22-6-2 record and 54 points entering play May 14 were good for third in the NAHL’s central division in a down year for most of Minot’s division rivals.
The season was still packed with exciting moments, clutch performances and significant milestones throughout, and it is not over yet, as the Minotauros are on a collision course for a first-round postseason matchup with the Bismarck Bobcats.
Minot began its season in encouraging fashion, as the Minotauros defeated the visiting Bobcats by a 1-0 final score. Keenan Rancier set the tone for his season with 46 saves in the victory, including a 20-save third period. Damon Zimmer scored the lone tally in a game marred with roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The Minotauros would split their next four games, dropping the second of the season-opening back-to-back with Bismarck 3-2 in a shootout before bouncing back with a 4-2 victory against the Minnesota Wilderness. Minot once again was unable to sweep their second back-to-back of the season, falling 5-4 in overtime to Minnesota October 17.
The squad righted the ship against the St. Cloud Norsemen to wrap up the first month of play, sweeping the two-game set by a 10-4 total score. Six ‘Tauros skaters found the back of the net in a 6-3 victory October 23, and Rancier saved 32 of 33 shots in a 4-1 win the next night to wrap up a 4-0-1-1 first month.
The season’s second month of play, as well as almost a full month off, presented a larger challenge, as Minot was unable to secure its first November win until November’s final game. Following the Minotauros’ October 24 contest, the team did not play again until November 20.
Minot met the eventual first-place-finishing Aberdeen Wings for the first time to open the year, and the Wings greeted the Minotauros with a 7-0 rout, followed by another 5-2 victory at Maysa Arena.
A home-and-home-and-home three-game series against Bismarck followed, but Minot’s offense was mostly stifled by the Bobcats in the first two games. Bismarck outscored the Minotauros 9-4 over said contests, and Minot was glaring at the possibility of a winless month.
The squad bounced back and registered its first November victory on the month’s third-to-last day. Minot entered the third frame grasping a slim one-goal lead, but Bismarck’s Will Magnuson tied the affairs at three with his third goal of the season just under 14 minutes in.
The contest appeared destined for overtime until Carter Korpi came through in the final three minutes with his fourth goal of the season, propelling Minot to its fifth win of the season and ending a relatively disappointing month on a high note.
The month of December brought with it an increased workload for the Minotauros, as seven games against Austin, St. Cloud and Bismarck awaited the Magic City representatives. Minot was able to build off its first win in 35 days, earning a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over Austin December 4. Zimmer and Cade Stibbe, Minot’s eventual points leader entering play May 7, contributed the game’s first two goals against Bruins netminder Tyler Shea.
The Minotauros blew the lead in the final frame, but Stibbe came through in overtime with his second score of the game and third of the year to lift Minot over Austin.
Kyle Kukkonen and Jacob Thomas each recorded a goal the next night in a 2-0 shutout win to secure the sweep of the Bruins, and Minot soared over the Norsemen with an 8-6 victory six days later that saw nine total third-period goals and 13 Minot skaters find the scoresheet, highlighted by Kukkonen’s five-point, four-assist evening.
Unfortunately for the Minotauros, the month’s highest high would have an equally low low awaiting them. St. Cloud responded with a 3-1 win the next night, and Minot was swept in three games by Bismarck December 18-31, a stretch that saw the Minotauros shut out in consecutive games to punctuate the 2020 calendar year.
December’s late struggles continued into the new year, as Minot again required a last-game victory to avoid a winless month. The Kenai River Brown Bears made their way to the Magic City to kick off NAHL festivities in 2021, and left with a pair of wins, outscoring Minot 9-3 over the two-game set.
The Minotauros hit the road for a brief one-game trip to Aberdeen, but Jake Sibell stopped 24 of 25 Minot shots to lead the Wings to a 3-1 victory. Minot’s lone goal in the contest was the first of the season from Tyler Kostelecky.
Another date with the Norsemen at Maysa Arena awaited the Minotauros, and after a 3-1 loss opened an eventual six-game homestand, Minot finally put another in the win column with a 4-2 victory January 30.
The Minotauros were slightly outshot 33-31in the contest, but Stibbe, Kaiden Scott, Ethan Schmunk and Jay Buchholz all bested Paxton Geisel in net to help give Minot its first win in 50 days.
The Minotauros’ schedule began to pick up once the calendar turned to February, as that month and the following two would see Minot play a total of 28 games, or exactly one half of its 56-game slate in just three of the eight-month season.
Minot had its chance to exact revenge upon the Brown Bears, as February began in similar fashion to January, with a two-game set against Kenai River at Maysa Arena.
The home squad took care of business this time, sweeping the Brown Bears with identical 4-2 victories in both games. The Minotauros utilized four unanswered scores in the first game, the first two of which came from Kostelecky, and Rancier stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced.
Four Minot skaters combined for four unanswered goals the next night as well, and Rancier stood on his head in stopping 35 of 37 Kenai River shots to complete the sweep.
The Minotauros extended their win streak to five with another sweep of the Minnesota Wilderness the following week. Minot threw 34 shots at Minnesota netminder Kaleb Johnson and came away with three scores while again leaning on Rancier, who came away with 37 saves on 39 shots.
The Minotauros upped their offense the following night, recording 44 shots and reaping five goals in reward. Rancier was no doubt grateful for the increased offensive output, but he still held Minnesota to just one tally on 37 shots.
Challenges closing out the month reappeared, and Minot went 0-4 to complete the month after struggling against Aberdeen and Minnesota once more. Minotauros skaters scored just once in two games against the Wings and allowed nine total in a two-game set against Minnesota.
After an eight-game month of February, a nine-game month of March awaited Minot with the benefit of home ice appearing just three times. The ‘Tauros wrapped up a six-game roadie with two against St. Cloud before returning home, and the Norsemen earned wins in both contests, sending Minot to two tough-luck overtime losses by 4-3 and 3-2 final scores. Buchholz was the standout offensive performer during the series, recording three goals between the two games.
Minot returned to its winning ways at home against Bismarck to open up another home-and-home series. Robert Kincaid and Blaine Warnert each tallied third-period goals, their first and third of the year, respectively, to life the home team over the Bobcats 4-3.
The Minotauros again hit the road, and took their next two games, the first a 4-1 victory to sweep the series against Bismarck, and a 2-1 upset of the Wings. Kostelecky found twine twice in the Bismarck win, and Rancier carried Minot over Aberdeen, allowing only one goal on 42 shots. Logan Anderson potted both Minotauros goals in Minot’s first victory over Aberdeen of the year.
The two teams returned to Maysa Arena to decide the three-game set and Aberdeen returned the favor, taking both by a combined 10-4 score. A visit by the Austin Bruins helped get Minot back on track, as the Minotauros swept Austin with two 4-3 wins to close out a 5-2-2-0 month.
An 11-game slate in April represented the busiest month of the season for Minot, with the majority of games again scheduled away from the friendly confines of Maysa Arena. A white-knuckle contest against St. Cloud April 2 kicked-started the full slate, highlighted by a three-goal second frame that gave the Minotauros a 4-3 lead entering the final period.
Gunnar Johnson came through for the Norsemen with a game-tying score six minutes and 20 seconds into the period, and Minot appeared to be headed for its second overtime in three games. With just 27 seconds remaining in regulation, Blaine Warnert wristed the puck past Geisel to lift Minot over St. Cloud to its first April win.
St. Cloud responded with a 5-3 bounce-back win the following night, but Minot needed to shake off the defeat with haste, as the Wings were once again next on the schedule.
The cards were stacked against the Minotauros with starting goaltender Keenan Rancier getting the night off and Carter Clafton in net against Aberdeen starter Jake Sibell, but Minot shocked the first-place Wings with a 3-0 shutout win, their second of the season against Aberdeen. Clafton shone in his chance under the bright lights, turning aside 36 Wings shots.
The Minotauros continued their offensive success in the opener of their next series against Minnesota, as Warnert notched his first hat trick of the season in the eventual 6-2 victory. Kostelecky also scored twice in the winning effort.
The Wilderness struck back with a slim 2-1 overtime win the following night, and another contest against St. Cloud on the road handed Minot its second consecutive loss April 11.
Another visit from Austin righted the ship, as Minot racked up six goals for the second time in four games in a 6-3 victory, but the Minotauros sputtered to a 0-3-0-1 finish to the month against Aberdeen, St. Cloud and Austin.
Minot opened the season’s final month with a 3-2 victory over the Austin Bruins, with all three goals produced by Warnert for his second hat trick of the season. The second-place Bismarck Bobcats paid their last visit to Maysa Arena following Minot’s one-goal win, but the Minotauros were unable to scratch out a victory against Bismarck. Minot was swept in the two-game set and outscored 10-6 in its final two home games of the regular season.
Stibbe, Kotelecky, Warnert and Minotauros captain Jack Westlund throughout the season had been Minot’s most prolific scorers, combining for 115 points through the season’s first 54 games.
Rancier was impressive with a significant workload of the course of the campaign as well, as he recorded a .913 total save percentage through 54 games accompanied by a goals-against average just over three despite facing the most shots of any netminder in the NAHL, 66 more than the next highest.
PUSH FOR THE PLAYOFFS
Minot entered its May 14 contest having clinched its eighth postseason berth in a row, and if the current standings hold with the Minotauros in third place, Minot would face the Bismarck Bobcats in the first round, with the best-of-five series beginning on the road in Bismarck.