The St. Cloud Norsemen fell behind early in the home-and-home series with the Austin Bruins and battled back Friday night before eventually falling in Austin. On Saturday in the rematch the Norsemen were clipped by just one goal in St. Cloud .
The home team got on the board first Friday when Isaak Brassard tapped in a rebound less than two minutes into the game. The Bruins hot start continued when halfway through the first Dylan Cook skated in from the left side and poked home a rebound from his own shot and then with three and a half minutes remaining a couple of quick, precise passes led to Ocean Wallace scoring from one knee at the left faceoff dot to give Austin a 3-0 lead going back into the locker room after outshooting St. Cloud 14-7.
The second period was much more balanced and the Norsemen were able to find the scoresheet just over a minute into the second period. On an offensive faceoff from the left side Jeremiah Konkel won the draw to his left where Blake Perbix banked the puck off the boards to Broten Sabo at the left point. Sabo rifled it to the right point and defenseman Ryan Thomas, playing in his first game for St. Cloud coming over from the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. He went wide and circled around a defender then attacked the net from the goal line and won the race to the far goal post, backhanding it over Bruins goalie Ethan Robertson’s blocker to score his first NAHL goal 1:01 into the second. Austin bounced back strong with Gavin Morrissey picking up a goal and Cook scoring his second of the game, both on the man advantage, to give the Bruins a commanding 5-1 lead.
Turnabout being fair play, the Norsemen also were able to capitalize on a couple goals with the man advantage in the second. Andrew Clarke won the faceoff from the right side cleanly back to Sabo, who attacked the net and from the inside of the right circle slid the puck right into Kade Peterson’s wheelhouse. From one knee Peterson snapped a shot that beat Robertson to the short side for his 14th goal of the season and 5th on the power play, both team highs. A delayed penalty drawn by Clarke on that faceoff win kept St. Cloud on the man advantage and Clarke was the one to make Austin pay for the infraction. Sabo found Perbix at the goal line who skated up to the left circle and fed Clarke on the inner side of the right circle. Clarke snapped it in far side past Robertson’s blocker at the 17:40 mark, 65 seconds after Peterson’s goal. Shots on goal favored Austin 16-14 in the second but the Norsemen would never draw any closer though as no goals were scored until Jack Malinski iced the game with an empty net goal with 9 seconds to play to make the final 6-3.
On Saturday the Bruins power play remained hot as around nine minutes into the game Morrissey and James Goffredo each played the point on the man advantage. Morrissey skated from right to left and switched spots with Goffredo then fed him the puck and Goffredo sniped the top left corner over Ethan Dahlmeir’s right shoulder to make it a 1-0 lead 8:52 into the game. Again Austin had a big edge in first period shots on goal, this time 14-8, and that was the only goal in the first 20 minutes.
St. Cloud once again found the back of the net thanks to a Rambow power play in the second period Saturday. Perbix took the puck from the left corner below the goal line and skated it to the slot; he was dispossessed of it by an Austin player but Clarke jumped on the loose puck, toe dragged around a Bruin, then fired through a sea of bodies and found twine 4:12 into the frame. But Austin would regain the lead when Walter Zacher poked home a loose puck that neither team could seem to do anything with for an extended period. The goal was moments after a Bruins power play expired and that goal at the 12 minute mark of the second would hold up for a 2-1 lead going into the third.
The final frame saw no penalties and no goals scored with the Norsemen pulling Dahlmeir late in an attempt to tie it and had multiple good looks in the last minute but Trent Wiemken wouldn’t surrender a second goal. Dahlmeir was named the second star, with 34 saves on 36 shots on goal Saturday after stopping all 20 he made in relief Friday night. Sabo, Clarke, and Perbix all had three point weekends and both teams had a lot of success on the man advantage with the Norsemen converting 3 of 10 power plays while the Bruins were successful on 4 of 12.
Having been an NAHL goaltender himself, St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz knows Dahlmeir was put in a tough situation Friday night but was pleased with the performance out of the Lakeville, MN native. “I thought the whole weekend he did a really good job. In Austin, coming in in relief is never an easy task, especially when the score is pretty one-sided,” admits Kautz. “He came in and made a couple huge saves and gave us a chance. Saturday, killing a bunch of penalties, I thought he did everything he needed to do. He gave us a chance and held us in there the whole game. I was pleased with what he did for us this weekend.”
Despite scoring three power play goals and converting on 30% of the Norsemen’s chances, Kautz still felt that the man advantage can improve, especially in some key situations. “You gotta capitalize on a 5-on-3 because they don’t come around very often, and then Saturday we had a 4-on-3. It’s something that you’re not used to, you don’t see it a lot,” Kautz points out. “I thought the guys were creative, changed things up, put some pressure on Austin’s penalty kill. Clarkie (Andrew Clarke) had a good shot to score; I thought our power play generated some chances and some goals and that’s what we needed out of them.
Kautz also knows the challenges that come with changing teams in the league as he played for three NAHL teams; the Owatonna Express, the Janesville Jets, and the Minnesota Wilderness, where he won the 2015 Robertson Cup, coached by St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen. Kautz was pleased with the performance out of defenseman Ryan Thomas, and his first goal in the league Friday night in his Norsemen debut. “It’s never easy to hop in a new playbook but I thought he had a great work of preparation in practice,” compliments Kautz. “He was dialed into the video, paying attention to our systems and asking questions. I was very happy to see him get rewarded for taking a puck to the net. He’ll only get better with more experience and getting more comfortable wearing a Norsemen jersey.”
These two teams are back at it again with another home-and-home series this weekend, swapping the location each night. This time the Norsemen get the first crack at home ice as Austin will come back to St. Cloud Friday night and tickets are available online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.