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Maybe Forbes Plozaj just likes to get an early start on his post-game shower, or maybe he’s just glad to be away from the 100-degree heat of his Gilbert, Arizona, home town. Whatever, the Aberdeen Wings goaltender has one of the more unusual game rituals ever seen in hockey.
When Aberdeen plays the top-seeded Aston Rebels from Pennsylvania, in the Robertson Cup national tournament at Essentia Heritage Center this weekend, watch closely whenever there’s a break in the action. Most goalies capitalize on the break by grabbing their water bottle out of its holder and take a quick drink.
Plozaj pushes his mask up, grabs the water bottle and casually gives it a few hard squirts up toward the rafters, letting the water fall in a cooling little cascade back down onto his own head. He does it the same way, with a neat little rhythm, every break. Refreshed, he puts it away, pulls his mask down and goes back to work.
That work was nothing short of incredible Monday night at Northwoods Arena in Cloquet, when he blocked, caught, kicked and otherwise prevented all 42 shots by the Minnesota Wilderness from entering the goal, as Aberdeen continued its amazing playoff run with a 1-0 overtime victory over the Wilderness in sudden-death overtime.
That outcome sent Aberdeen -- the fourth seed in the Central Division -- into the Robertson Cup, one of four survivors of the North American Hockey League junior playoffs. The Aberdeen Wings face the Aston Rebels from Pennsylvania in the 4:30 p.m. tournament opener on Thursday. At 7:30, the Lonestar Brahmas from Texas will take on Wisconsin’s Janesville Jets. Those games open a pair of best-of-3 playoffs, assuring the best two teams make it to Sunday’s one-game championship.
The records tell the story: Aston is 52-16 overall and seeded No. 1, Aberdeen is 32-33 and is No. 4, while No. 2 is the Lonestar Brahmas, at 50-18, and No. 3 Janesville is 48-19. The Wilderness fell one game -- one goal -- short of reaching the tournament, but Aberdeen is on a roll, having knocked off the division’s No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.
Not that the Wilderness went down easy. In fact, the fifth and deciding game was one of the classic battles of the season, at any level of hockey. The Wilderness had split the first two games of the best-of-5 series with Aberdeen in Cloquet, before the teams traveled to Aberdeen. The Wilderness won Game 3, but Aberdeen came back to win Game 4 and force Monday’s showdown.
On a gamble, Wilderness coach Tim Madsen sent Trevor Micucci into the nets. Micucci, who hadn’t even made the trip to Aberdeen after winning Game 2, responded with a spectacular performance, making 45 saves.
Both teams had skated and checked to exhaustion, with the speed and tempo of play leaving precious little chance for clean scoring opportunities. Aberdeen gained the upper hand in applying pressure as the overtime played on, but Micucci came up with one of his biggest saves when the Wings sprung a 2-on-0 at the end of a power play three minutes into the extra session.
At the 15-minute mark, the gang-tackling Wilderness defense allowed Micucci to locate and cover the puck, a foot away from paydirt by taking down the always-dangerous Colin Raver at the crease. But just seconds later, the scramble ensued again. Micucci went down to make a save, and on the following battle Tyler Bossert nudged the puck over to the slot, 10 feet out, and Raver one-timed it over the fallen goaltender and into the twine at 15:05.
The Aston Rebels, Lonestar Brahmas, and Janesville Jets all won their leagues and their playoffs, while the Aberdeen Wings finished fourth. It goes without saying that Aston, Lonestar and Janesville are all riding hot goaltenders. The Aberdeen Wings may not boast about having the hottest goaltender, but as long as he's armed with that water bottle, Forbes Plozaj is definitely the coolest.