Defending home ice
With one shot Saturday, the Minot Minotauros went from the brink of elimination to stealing home-ice advantage from North American Hockey League Central Division champion Austin (Minn.) in their best-of-five series.
Minot forward Jadin Martin’s game-winning goal – his first of the playoffs – eight minutes, 52 seconds into overtime sent the series to Minot tied 1-1. The playoff win was the Tauros’ first in program history.
To sweeten the deal for Martin, his overtime heroics came against the team he played for during his first two seasons in the NAHL.
“It was good to get the win,” Martin said. “It was a good feeling, especially against an old team. The team played really well. … Both games could have gone either way. Both games were up and down the ice. We traded chances back and forth.”
Now, Minot can advance to the division finals if it can do what the Bruins were unable to accomplish – defend home ice. With victories at Maysa Arena on Friday and Saturday night, the Tauros would avoid a trip back to Austin for a decisive game five.
But that is easier said than done as the Bruins had one of the best road records in the NAHL. Austin finished the regular season 20-7-3 away from Riverside Arena and has won four straight at Maysa Arena.
“The guys will definitely feed off the crowd,” Tauros coach Marty Murray said. “It’s been an unusual series with Austin with the road team having had more success than the home team. We hope we can change that around this weekend.”
Minot’s discipline was a key reason for taking one-of-two from Austin to start the series. The Tauros – who led the Central Division with 1,284 penalty minutes during the regular season – committed just eight penalties and surrendered only six power-play opportunities to the Bruins.
When Austin was able to unleash its NAHL-best power-play unit – operating at a 25 percent success rate during the regular season – Tauros goaltender Tyler Parks kept the puck in front of him and shut down Austin’s vaunted goal scorers. Parks made 30 saves in game one and 38 in game two, including eight in overtime. It was the first two starts for the Minot goaltender since suffering an upper-body injury on March 22.
“To be honest, I tried to put (the injury) in the back of my mind and just work hard in practice leading up to the playoffs,” Parks said. “I’m glad it was a successful weekend for myself and the team.”
Austin’s scoring trio of Brandon Wahlin, A.J. Reid and C.J. Smith have been held in check through the first two games of the series. All three forwards finished the regular season with 59-plus points, but have been reduced to just a goal and an assist in the playoffs.
“Our guys have really stepped up,” Murray said. “They know if we let our foot off the gas they’re a team that’s going to make you pay. I’ve been impressed with the team shift after shift.”
With the Tauros hosting the first playoff game in their two-year existence, Murray said it is an exciting time for the franchise.
“Everybody should be excited about it,” he said. “The fans have been through it thick and thin. There’s supposed to be an advantage playing at home. If we bring our work ethic along with our hockey sense, it could be a good weekend for us.”