Sitting at 1-8-1 after their first 10 games, it looked like the beginning of another head-scratching season for the second-year Minot Minotauros.
But the Tauros have shown improvement as of late, and, at 6-12-1 overall, are just one win away from matching their seven-win total in their inaugural season.
"We started off poor this year and the last 12 games we're 6-6," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "It's nothing to write home about, but I can see the confidence growing slowly. They've bought into what we're selling."
Minotauros forward Jadin Martin (16) leads a three-man rush up ice with forwards Denis Dalidovich, left, and Jake O’Borsky, right, during a game earlier this season at Maysa Arena.
The Tauros recently completed a seven-game road trip highlighted by a 5-4 shootout victory over Central Division-leading Austin. Minot posted a 4-1 victory Saturday at Maysa Arena over four-time Central-champion Bismarck. The Tauros lost all 12 games to the Bobcats last season.
"We've had a tough schedule," Murray said. "We played the West Coast teams both home and away and held our own. Just believing that we can play with anybody goes a long way."
Minot averages 2.79 goals per game this season compared to 2.1 goals per contest at the same point last season. One reason for the increase in offensive production is the acquisition of forward Jake O'Borsky from Wenatchee via trade. In 11 games, O'Borsky is tied for the team lead in scoring with 14 points, registering five goals and nine assists.
O'Borsky's contributions have helped the Tauros fill the void left by forward and team captain Tim Donohue, who broke his hand in a 3-2 shootout victory over Fresno on Nov. 2.
"Tim's a guy who leads by example," Murray said. "He's gritty. It's a big hole when we lost him. But some of the other guys have picked up the slack."
Among those who have stepped up in Donohue's absence are forwards Jadin Martin and Denis Dalidovich. The duo has combined for two goals and five assists since losing Donohue.
Defensively, Minot allows 3.47 goals per game. While high, it's an improvement from the four goals per game the Tauros allowed through 19 games last season.
Tyler Parks and Ryan Ruck split time at the goalie position to begin the season, but the 6-foot-6 Parks has emerged as the go-to goaltender, starting the last 10 games. In 12 games - 11 of those being starts - Parks is 5-6 with a 3.17 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
"Our goaltending has been pretty solid," Murray said. "When you can have confidence in your goalie, good things happen."
Murray said the team has bought into the coaching staff's system of doing the little things, which include sacrificing the body to block shots, being smart with the puck and limiting turnovers in the defensive zone.
While the Tauros are in just their second season, that hasn't stopped Murray from setting his expectations high.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs," he said. "We're right there. We're one point out and I like the way the guys are playing. On any given night anybody can beat anybody."
The Tauros and Aberdeen are currently tied with 13 points,with Coulee Region currently holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with 14 points.
"You can see we've made some strides," Murray said. "To finally see some success is fun. We're not satisfied yet, but hopefully we can continue to improve."
The Tauros play at Bismarck at 7:15 p.m. Thursday before beginning a four-game homestand Friday.