The St. Cloud Norsemen jumped on the Minot Minotauros early on Saturday night and would never relinquish the lead as they prevailed 3-1 to earn a road split on the weekend.
Before all the fans had even found their seats at Maysa Arena, Kade Peterson pressured a Tauro forward and not only turned the puck over but at the last moment kicked the puck to keep it on the blue line and keep the play onside. Anthony Ruklic, who had been forechecking behind the Minot net, circled around and Peterson made a behind the back, backhanded pass to Ruklic at the inside sliver of the right circle and Ruklic snapped a shot just inside the far goal post, past the Lawton Zacher’s blocker to put St. Cloud on the board 3:42 into the game. No penalties were called in the first frame and it looked like the game would go to the locker room 1-0 in favor of the visitors but late in the period Ruklic backhanded the puck out of the zone to neutral ice and darted out to the right wing boards, winning the race to the loose puck. That set up a two-on-two with Elmeri Hällfors cutting to the net and when Ruklic toe-dragged the puck to the slot and fired a shot it left a rebound that Hällfors tried to put home from the side of the net but Zacher made a great second save. The netminder was then unable to get up in time and with the defense focusing on tying up Ruklic, Hällfors waited patiently for defenseman Broten Sabo to skate into the slot and when he received the puck he had the full four-by-six feet and fired into the yawning net 18:46 into the period, one which was dominated by the Norsemen with a 16-6 shots on goal advantage.
Minot pushed back in the second period, with 14 SOG to St. Cloud’s 10 and got on the board just 78 seconds into the frame to cut the lead to one. Blake Steenerson handled the puck up the left wing half wall and pressure by St. Cloud forced him to lose the puck but it went straight to the tape of teammate Braden Fischer. Fischer wasted no time hitting Trevor Stachowiak at the left side of the net and from almost no angle Stachowiak immediately fired. St. Cloud Norsemen goalie Will Ingemann set to the shot but the puck rolled up and trickled into the net to cut the lead to 2-1. The Norsemen would respond quickly though and less than a minute after it momentarily appeared as if Minot had tied the game on a goal scored above the crossbar and waived off for a puck played with a high stick, St. Cloud scored exactly 5:00 into the second. Severi Sulonen helped the Norsemen break out with a long flipped puck that Blake Perbix found and tried to center but it kicked off a Minotauro skate into the right corner. Tyler Dysart found it and hit Andrew Clarke on the back side who shot backhanded and Zacher made a great save but it left him out of position and Perbix raced to the loose puck and stuffed it home to make it 3-1. Minutes later Zach came out of the game in what appeared to be some sort of injury annd was replaced by Noah Rupprecht. The Norsemen were called for four penalties in the frame, including two that left some overlapping 5-on-3 time but killed all of them off to take the two-goal lead into the third.
The third period had no goals but not for a lack of effort as the Minotauros were in desperation but couldn’t solve St. Cloud goalie Ingemann. Minot outshot St. Cloud 12-5 in the last period and also had the only power play chance of the third but Ingemann shut the door making 31 saves on 32 shots on goal. It was the first game action Ingemann has had with the Norsemen since November 4th as he competed for Wayzata High School for his senior season. Ingemann was also the first goaltender to be named Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year, an honor first awarded in 1985 to Tom Chorske, who would later go on to win a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils and would serve as General Manager of the St. Cloud Norsemen. Ingemann’s record improved to 4-1-0-1 and the Norsemen now sit at 26-20-3-4 for 59 points with seven games left in the regular season.
In the other series around the Central Division, the first place Austin Bruins picked up three points while losing to Bismarck 3-2 in a shootout Friday in Austin but winning the series the next night by a 5-2 score to clinch the first playoff berth in the Central. North Iowa remained red hot with a sweep at home over Aberdeen with a third period come-from-behind 4-2 victory Friday and then a 4-0 shutout win Saturday. Their four points allowed them to catch St. Cloud in a tie for second in the standings, while Aberdeen currently holds the fourth spot in the standings and the last playoff spot, three points ahead of Minot and five clear of Bismarck. The bottom two teams Minot and Bismarck both gained ground on Aberdeen but fell further behind North Iowa and tied St. Cloud on the weekend, losing two valuable games to try to gain ground in the process. St. Cloud’s magic number is 5.0 meaning they will clinch a playoff spot with five wins, five regulation losses by the 5th place team (currently Minot) or a combination of the two adding up to 5.0.
Up next for the Norsemen are three straight games against the Austin Bruins, beginning with a trip to Riverside Arena in Austin next Saturday, March 25th. The game can be seen online at hockeytv.com. The next home game at the MAC back in St. Cloud is on Thursday, March 30th and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.