The St. Cloud Norsemen outshot the Austin Bruins by a healthy margin Saturday night but Austin goaltender Trent Wiemken stood tall, the Bruins tied the game in the third period and would eventually win in a shootout in Austin, MN to claim the 2022-23 NAHL Central Division title.
Wiemken actually helped the Bruins get on the board when he kicked out a Hunter Hanson shorthanded shot that helped Austin break out of their zone and score in transition. A slew of quick passes found defenseman Jack Malinski at the right point and he ripped a shot that was tipped on target by Gavin Morrisseym. Norsemen goalie Will Ingemann made the stop but the rebound went straight to Josh Giulani, who potted the puck into the yawning net from Ingemann’s right at the 6:17 mark. Less than three minutes later though St. Cloud would tie it up when Wyatt Wurst stole the puck away from his opponent and chipped it to the Austin blue line. Hanson skated onto it and buried a shot up the right wing side from a tough angle 9:02 into the game. It was an impressive road period as the Norsemen outshot the Bruins 12-8.
The shots on goal disparity was even greater in the second with St. Cloud outshooting Austin 16-3. Unfortunately, Wiemken kept the Bruins in the game as he was only beaten once in the period, at the 5:58 mark. A Bruin just lost control of the puck right at their blue line and Sinjem skated onto it, cut around the defenseman who was caught flat-footed, and coming in from the left side Sinjem buried the puck low, far-side, out of the reach of Wiemken’s glove to make it a 2-1 lead for the Norsemen. Unfortunately that lead would only last 13 seconds into the third period when a Morrissey shot in the slot missed the net but Dylan Cook tracked it down behind the cage and wrapped it around and in to tie the game at two apiece. It was the lone regulation period that Austin outshot St. Cloud, and by an 8-6 margin, and the Bruins got two of the three SOG in the five-minute overtime frame, giving the Norsemen a 35-22 advantage for the game and would send us to a shootout.
In overtime Walter Zacher buried his shot in the first round on the glove side of Ingemann and Wiemken made saves on Blake Perbix, Kade Peterson and Andrew Clarke to preserve the win. The Bruins finished the weekend with a record of 33-13-3-5 and their 74 points are enough to clinch the Central Division title. It was the only game for either team on the weekend. Both of the other series in the Central were splits with Minot defeating North Iowa 4-3 in Mason City, IA Friday but the Bulls coming back to even the series with a win on Saturday 5-4, both in regulation. Bismarck hosted Aberdeen and picked up a 3-2 shootout victory Friday but fell 4-1 Saturday so the Wings were the only squad to pick up three points on the weekend. North Iowa now sits alone in second, a point ahead of St. Cloud who has 60 in the bank. Aberdeen is two points behind the Norsemen in fourth with Minot six points behind the Norsemen and Bismarck eight points out. With St. Cloud picking up a point in the shootout loss and Minot losing in regulation Saturday the Norsemen’s magic number is down to 3.5.
There are six games left in the regular season for all six teams in the division and St. Cloud has half of them at home and half on the road. The next game for the Norsemen is on Thursday, March 30th, once again against the Austin Bruins. Tickets can be found online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.