by Ken Oda
Minot, ND - The Minotauros head into the season's final weekend with an opportunity not just to clinch their ninth consecutive Robertson Cup Playoff appearance but also to end their biggest rival's season. The Tauros sit one point ahead of the Bismarck Bobcats for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL Central Division. The two teams will meet for two games this weekend, first in Minot on Friday and then in Bismarck on Saturday; the Tauros just need to win one of those contests to clinch a playoff spot.
Should the Tauros win on either night it would keep the second longest active playoff streak in the NAHL alive. Only the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, who have qualified for the playoffs 18 consecutive times, have a longer streak than the Tauros nine. Behind the Tauros are New Jersey and Lone Star who each have already claimed their seventh consecutive playoff berth and Janesville who is trying to clinch their eighth but are currently in fifth in the Midwest.
As for the Bobcats they hope to turn a red hot second half into the comeback story of the year. With a record of 9-18-3 after the Tauros beat them on New Year's Eve and sitting in last place the Cats have gone 18-9-1 since the calendar turned to 2022 and are a weekend sweep from earning a playoff spot for just the third time in the last seven seasons.
To avoid that the Tauros will likely look to their big names, Top Scorer and Most Valuable Player award winner at last Monday's Tauros Awards Banquet Huston Karpman has 12 points in just 9 contests against the Cats. Captain Cole Mickel has 10, on five goals and five assists against Bismarck this year. Zach Sandy, voted the Tauros' Rookie of the Year is 3-0-1 against the Cats with a .944 SV%.
The Cats no doubt will counter with Oskar Spinnars-Nordin who has defended the net in every contest for the Cats since January 14. He has two of the Cats' three wins against the Tauros posting a .884 SV%. At the other end the Tauros will need to slow Ryan Taylor who two goals and two assists against the Tauros in five games. Patrick Johnson has four goals against the Tauros to lead the Cats while Owen Michaels has a goal and six helpers for a team leading seven points against Minot.
The other challenge facing both teams is that like just about all other North Dakotans this week's blizzard has kept them snowed in. Neither team has skated since Tuesday. Despite that as of Thursday night the plan is still to move ahead with the games as scheduled weather permitting. Tickets for the weekend's game are available here or through the "Tickets" tab atop this page.
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