by: Ken Oda, minotauroshockey.com
For the fourth consecutive season the Minot Minotauros return from Christmas break and face the Bismarck Bobcats. The teams will play three games in four nights with a home-and-home weekend set starting in Bismarck on Friday and heading north to Minot on Saturday. Then the teams will meet on Monday night in their traditional New Years Eve date with the Bobcats.
The Tauros come out of the break in third place seven points behind the first place Aberdeen Wings. The Central Division, while not as tight as last year at this time when all six teams were separated by just four points, remains as strong as ever boasting a .682 point percentage when playing against the other divisions. Last year the Tauros sat in last place at this time of the year and still managed a run to the Robertson Cup Championship Game.
The Tauro offense remains among the best in the league, ranked fifth overall scoring 3.31 goals per game though it has slumped of late scoring just 23 goals in the last 10 games. To try to spark the offense the Tauros added Vince Marino from Brookings, who provided some immediate ROI with a goal in his first game as a Tauro before the Christmas break. The most obvious reason for the Tauros offensive woes has been a decrease in shooting percentage. Over the first 19 games of the season the Tauros scored on 11.01% of their shots on goal, in the last 10 games that number has dropped to 6.92%. That could be at least partly attributed to luck as the Tauros may have been due a cold snap as the league-wide shooting percentage is just 9.07%.
Defensively the Tauros have sat around the middle of the pack in shots allowed (currently 11th allowing 31.38); however during the current slump over the last 10 games Tauro goalies Nicholas Grabko and Ben Garrity have a combined .875 save percentage compared to a combined .930 in the 19 games prior. The result has been a 1.56 increase in GAA, from 2.236 to 3.798 and a fall from second to 15th in goals against per game.
Two years ago the Tauros used a sweep of the three games set with Bismarck coming out of the break to propel themselves to a 20-11-1 second half and the best record in the Central Division. Coincidentally, a 3-0-0 showing against the Cats over the next four days would give the Tauros a 20-11-1 record to start the 2018-19 campaign.
The Bobcats come out of the break hot on the Tauros' heels just two points behind Minot and in fourth place in the Central. The Cats have two games in hand on the Tauros however, and a good showing this weekend could put them in the driver's seat of the Subway Cup. Neither team has been able to pick up a road win in the season series this year, the Cats have just one win in 10 tries at the Maysa over the last two seasons while the Tauros are 2-6-1 at the VFW over the same time.
The Tauros will need to find a way to stop Sam Malinski, the defenseman has seven points (3g 4a) in seven games against the Tauros. Austin Jouppi has also caused the Tauros problems with three goals and two assists in just four games against the Tauros.
In goal John Roberts carried the load early in the season, he was the goalie of record in each of the Cats' first 15 games until Atticus Kelly was acquired. That trend ended shortly after Kelly joined the Cats and the duo have split weekends for the last month.
Tickets and Promotions
Tickets for Saturday's game in Minot are available through the "Tickets" tab atop this page. After Saturday's game the Tauros will be hosting their first skate with the Tauros of the season. Bring your skates and join the team on the ice for 20 minutes after the game. Also the Tauros and Vitalant will be hosting a blood drive during the game, fans who do not intend to drink beer at the game are encouraged to give blood and help save a life!
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