The St. Cloud Norsemen secured home ice for the first round of the North American Hockey League playoffs with a thrilling, come-from-behind shootout victory on Saturday in Bismarck.
The Norsemen grabbed a 4-3 win with a convincing shootout performance by goal-scorers Ryan O’Neill (Univ. of St. Thomas) and Blake Perbix (Northern Michigan), and goaltender Tomas Bolo (Zilina, Slovakia).
With the win earning two points in the Central Division standings, the division-leading Norsemen can finish no worse than second place in the standings, securing home ice for the first round.
Norsemen tender, defenseman Leo Gruba (Hill-Murray // Lake Elmo, MN) made a splash in his NAHL debut weekend, scoring the game-tying goal to force overtime late in the third period, in just his second game for St. Cloud. Gruba is ranked 100th in the NHL Central Scouting rankings for North American skaters ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft.
Forward Ethan Benz (Shakopee, MN) put the Norsemen on the board in the first period to give the team a 1-0 lead. Bismarck clawed back to tie the game 1-1 early in the second.
Norsemen tender, forward Max Strand put St. Cloud ahead 2-1. Strand was Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey following his senior season at Roseau, and has 4 goals and 12 points in 8 games with the Norsemen. Bismarck fought back once again, scoring a pair of shorthanded goals late in the second period to take the 3-2 lead.
Gruba’s launch from the blue line powered the Norsemen into overtime. St. Cloud spent the opening 1:47 of overtime on the penalty kill, and made a huge defensive stand in front of a raucous Bobcats crowd. Defenseman Nick Young (Raleigh, NC) leapt in front of the puck, making a huge block, to keep Bismarck from snagging the victory in overtime.
In the shootout, O’Neill flipped the puck backhand past Oskar Spinnars-Nordin for the first score. Then Bolo made an effortless stop on Bismarck’s Owen Michaels (UMass). St. Cloud’s next shooter was Perbix (Princteton, MN // NMU) and he pulled the goaltender to his left, and dangled the puck past him on the right side and in. Needing to make one save to win, Bolo blocked away the shimmy shot from Jake McLean to clinch the win for St. Cloud.
St. Cloud (34-15-2-1) plays four games in the upcoming week, with the lone home game happening Friday night at 7:00 p.m. at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex against the North Iowa Bulls. The Norsemen travel to North Iowa on Wednesday for a 6:30 p.m. contest, are home Friday, on the road at Austin on Saturday at 7:00 p.m., and visit the Janesville Jets in Wisconsin on Sunday at 2:00 p.m.
Get your tickets for Norsemen home games online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com and join us at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex next Friday, April 1 for an exciting night of Norsemen Hockey!