The last six weekends of the regular season for the St. Cloud Norsemen can be broken down into three different phases. They’ll end with four straight games against the Aberdeen Wings, which may be the most vital in determining seed if both teams are already in the postseason or close to clinching a playoff berth. In an eight-day period from March 25th through April 1st they’ll take on the Austin Bruins three times with only one of those games being at home, which may be the toughest stretch. But the Norsemen are arguably halfway through the most important pair of weekends in simply making the postseason or not; facing the two teams currently sitting out of playoff spots in the Central Division in the Bismarck Bobcats and the Minot Minotauros. St. Cloud took care of business last weekend when they allowed Bismarck to pick up no points in a sweep and they’re looking for similar results this weekend on the road in Minot.
Minot is 2-5 in their last seven games and have lost their last three straight, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. Last weekend when they hosted North Iowa they fell Friday 3-1 after outshooting the Bulls 47-24 before losing Saturday in the rematch Saturday 5-4 in regulation despite outshooting North Iowa 44-32.
St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen doesn’t think Minot’s recent struggles are an indication of their play but more of what a gauntlet the Central Division is. “I think they played pretty well. Statistically they got a lot of shots, had a lot of chances, they obviously played pretty well,” compliments Millen. “We’ve all been on that side of it where we think we played well enough to win but haven’t done it. (This weekend) we gotta try to get results.”
Minot has the toughest schedule remaining in the Central Division with four games remaining against the top team Austin and they’re the only team that still has to face all four of the teams currently sitting in a playoff spot. In addition, six of their ten remaining games are on the road.
Millen is solely focused on the upcoming schedule and when he answers if looking at the previous results against certain opponents factors in or if there’s incentive to win the season series, he peels back the curtain and concedes he doesn’t even recall all the past scores and records. “I don’t even know where we’re at in the season series,” admits Millen. “Obviously it’s not the most important thing; that’s this Friday night at 7:30. We’ll take it a game at a time and try to get the best results we can, that’s where we’re at.”
Hunter Longhi paces the Minotauros offensively, as he is third in the league with 61 points and second in assists with 43 while his seven-game point streak is tied for the second longest active streak as he’s scored 11 points over that time. Longhi’s streaks are extended even further if you look just at home games as he has a 12-game assist streak (17 over that time) and 14 game point streak (24 during that span) on the Pepsi Rink at Maysa Arena. Chase LaPinta is fifth in the NAHL with 27 goals, which is the most of any rookie, and his 45 points are third most amongst rookies. Lawton Zacher does most of the heavy lifting in the crease with a record of 15-8-1, a 2.59 gaa and a .919 save % as their starting goaltender.
This weekend’s games may be the most important games for the Norsemen’s season as far as making the playoffs go, though we understand that may sound cliché. That being said, clichés are clichés for a reason, and Millen seems to agree with their importance this time around. “I would say every game is going to be the most important game of the season from here on out, really,” Millen confirms. “ Yeah, of course; huge points on the line for both teams. There’s going to be a sense of desperation from both teams too so, yeah, there’s a lot on the line.”
You can watch the games online both nights on HockeyTV with the puck dropping at 7:35, just go to hockeytv.com.
The Norsemen’s next home game is Thursday, March 30th, and tickets can be found at: tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.