The Minot Minotauros' faithful didn't have to hold on to their teddy bears for very long Saturday night.
Minot forward Mason Morelli scored just 15 seconds into the game to give the Tauros the lead as teddy bears rained down from the stands.
Morelli's goal was just the beginning of an offensive explosion for the Tauros. Minot scored four times in the opening period and the Tauros crushed rival Bismarck 5-1 at Maysa Arena as part of the second-annual "Teddy Bear Toss" sponsored by Trinity Hospital.
Minot Minotauros forwards Jadin Martin (16) and Zack Holstrom (15) celebrate a first-period goal against Bismarck on Saturday at Maysa Arena. The Tauros scored four times in the opening period.
"It was pretty special and it felt great being able to get it in front of my hometown," Morelli said. "The crowd went nuts and that made it very special."
The Tauros (13-13-2 overall) took a two-goal lead on defenseman Jake Clifford's wrist shot through traffic from the right faceoff circle at 7:21. Clifford received a pass from Scott Dornbrock near the blue line and faked a slap shot before moving in on net to beat Bismarck goaltender Brian Nies. Zach Holstrom received the secondary assist.
Minot capitalized on Bismarck's miscues, adding its third goal of the period via the power play at 10:27. At the latter end of a hooking penalty to Bismarck's Joe Hockert, Minot's Cameron Rowat backhanded a shot into an empty net as Nies was caught out of position. Nies came out of the net to challenge Dornbrock's shot, but the rebound came out to Rowat, who capitalized with the man advantage.
"We just worked," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "We competed. We were in people's faces and pushing the pace of the game."
Rowat's goal ended Nies' night in net after making just four saves on seven shots. He was replaced by Aaron Nelson.
Adding salt to Bismarck's ever-growing wounds was Minot forward Tim Donohue's tally with just two seconds remaining in the opening period. Leading a 2-on-1 break with time winding down, Donohue opted to keep the puck and squeezed a shot underneath Nelson's stick-side arm.
"We had a great first period," Minot forward Jadin Martin said. "Our first period last night was pretty bad. To come back and score four right away in the first period, it was nice."
The Bobcats (15-12-2) couldn't catch a break in the second period. Despite limiting the Tauros to four shots on goal, Bismarck could not put the puck past Minot goaltender Tyler Parks. The Bobcats had what would have been a power-play goal nullified by the referees after the net came off its moorings.
The call didn't sit well with Bismarck coach Layne Sedevie, who had words with an official after the play. Sedevie was ejected from Friday's game for unsportsmanlike conduct toward an official.
Adam Knochenmus put the Bobcats on the scoreboard with 12:21 remaining in the third period.
The Tauros' victory brings them within three points of Brookings for third place and four points of second-place Bismarck in the NAHL Central Division.
"Our goal is to make the playoffs and we're in that fourth position right now," Murray said. "We want to get better and we are. You don't let the highs get too high and the lows get too low."
The Tauros travel to Coulee Region on Thursday at 8 p.m.