Good defense starts with good goalies, and Aberdeen Wings coach Travis Winter says he has three of them.
Zach Nagelvoort, Chad Catt and Jordyn Kaufer patrol the net for the Wings - widely considered the North American Hockey League's hottest team. The Wings have won six in a row and 12 of their last 16 games since Feb. 1. The Wings have beaten all three Central Division NAHL playoff teams and have kept their slim hopes alive for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division since March 1.
If Minot gets a win or overtime loss, or Aberdeen loses a game, the Minotauros secure their place in the playoffs.
Defense has been one of the major factors for the Wings' hot streak. Winter analyzed his goalies:
Nagelvoort: The biggest thing about Zach is his confidence. He is very confident in his ability, competitive and athletic. He likes to play the puck. He carries himself with a lot of energy and confidence, and his teammates feed off of that.
Catt: His biggest qualities are his competitiveness and work ethic. Chad's work ethic rubs off on his teammates. He is another one of those high-energy and athletic goalies. He is like Zach, in that he can make saves that other guys can't make.
Kaufer: Jordyn hasn't played a lot, but he is an extremely hard worker who is getting better in practice. It is great experience for all three of them to get to practice and play together. They get along great, but they all three are extremely competitive goalies, and that is one of the reason that makes them all so good. Their competitiveness helps makes our practices so competitive. It is a great situation for us, and it helps us create depth at the goalie position.
The goalies had past history together from either playing against each other in the past or trying out together for other teams before arriving in Aberdeen. All three love playing in Aberdeen and for Coach Winter, the Wings' fans and their teammates.
My teammates have been very welcoming and the leadership of the organization has been great, said Nagelvoort, who was the last of the three goalies to arrive in Aberdeen, all within the last three months. And I could not ask for anything better than our coaching staff. And the best part has been my billet (host) family; they have been so supportive of me. Plus, our fan base here has been incredible. So it has all been a really good experience for me all the way around in Aberdeen.
Nagelvoort is 7-0-1 as a Wing since being traded on Feb. 6 from Soo Center, the NAHL franchise in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. He also has won NAHL and junior hockey player of the week awards. He pointed back to his teammates for the Wings' winning ways.
Obviously, the whole team been working together really well, Nagelvoort said. We have had the defense we needed, and with the guys scoring every night, it is going to be hard to beat us.
Catt said he and his teammates always look forward to home games like this weekend when the Wings host the Coulee Region Chill at 7:15 tonight and Saturday night at the Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen. I love it here, especially the atmosphere on home game nights, Catt said. We are always amped up to play here because it is a packed house. It is exciting to play in that kind of atmosphere.
Catt said he and his teammates have really embraced Coach Winter's day-by-day approach to the game. We are just trying to practice as hard as we can each day and get better as quickly as we can so we can perform well in games.
Kaufer said Coach Winter is what the Wings needed. When he came in, our attitudes changed and the tempo of our practices picked up. And when you start winning, everybody is happy.
Kaufer said he and his fellow two goalies have a great relationship and are surrounded by talented defensemen and forwards who make their jobs easier. The three (goalies) of us try to make each other and our team better every day in practice.
All three goalies said focus and short memories are among the tools a goalie needs. As long as you stop the puck, you are doing your job, Kaufer said. You just have to have mental toughness to get the job done.