Both nights the St. Cloud Norsemen played the Austin Bruins over the weekend ended in heartbreaking fashion for St. Cloud with Friday’s 3-2 home regulation loss having the winning goal scored with less than a second remaining and Saturday’s road loss coming by a score of 4-3 in overtime.
The Bruins struck first Friday when their defenseman Ashton Bynum skated the puck up to the center line and from the left side boards cross-ice dumped the puck deep into the right corner. Heavy forechecking tied up a Norsemen defenseman and allowed Ocean Wallace to race onto the puck and quickly feed it just in front of the crease where Gavin Morrissey shoveled the puck up and into net 8:56 into the second.
Austin would get on the board again in the third on the man advantage when Austin Salani dumped the puck into the offensive zone on the power play and it eluded St. Cloud goaltender Ethan Dahlmeir, who had gone behind his net to play the puck. The loose puck rolled straight to Damon Furuseth at the bottom of the left circle, who had little time and quickly fired from almost no angle and hit the inner far side of the netting to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead at 10:14. But the Norsemen would get a goal back less than three minutes later when St. Cloud’s Andrew Clarke’s hustle led the play up the right wing boards before he was knocked down in the corner. A failed attempt to clear the zone by Austin was rimmed to the left point and Norsemen defenseman Ryan Thomas took the puck from backhand to forehand and skated just outside of the left circle before ripping a shot at goalie Trent Wiemken. Wiemken made the save but coughed up the puck to his right and Kade Peterson tapped in the rebound that trickled through the pads to make it a 2-1 affair 13:02 into the third.
St. Cloud completed the comeback in the final minute of the period with an empty net and Dahlmeir pulled for a sixth attacker. An offensive zone faceoff won by the Norsemen resulted in a couple scoring chances and then a stalemate of bodies below the goal line that saw the puck squirt to Blake Perbix. Below the goal line Perbix found Clarke at the left circle who fired a shot that was tipped in by Peterson for his second goal of the period with 50.4 seconds left in regulation. Unfortunately, that was enough time left on the clock for the Norsemen to take a penalty and the Bruins to capitalize. With a draw just outside the St. Cloud blueline Austin gained the zone and James Goffredo collected the puck off an errant shot of his and made a pass behind the net to Josh Giulani. Giulani centered to Morrissey who caught and released the puck in one motion to beat Dahlmeir from the slot and skate off with a 3-2 regulation with 0.1 seconds left in the game.
On Saturday in Austin the Norsemen picked up the lone goal of the opening frame when Clarke shot up the left side wing with a full head of steam and fed the puck to Peterson at the blue line. Peterson was stood up at the wall but aided by Clarke who backhanded the puck down low to Peterson. From behind the goal line he centered to Perbix whose first shot rebounded right back to him and he was able to bat it into a yawning net on the backhand to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at the 8:24 mark of the first period.
Austin would get two goals in quick succession in the second though when moments after a great scoring chance by St. Cloud’s Severi Sulonen was denied in tight the Bruins transitioned quickly and took the puck away at neutral ice with a big check. Sam Christiano from his own defensive third shot the puck up to Morrissey at the right blue line on a 2-on-1 and he sauced a centering pass to Walter Zacher. Zacher made a couple of moves and then beat Tomáš Boľo to the right post and scored at the 5:24 mark. He would score again 15 seconds later after forechecking by the Bruins created pressure and Morrissey picked off a pass at the left wing boards and hit Zacher in the middle of the ice who made a move to inch into the slot and then sniped a shot in the top left corner over Boľo’s blocker to make it a 2-1 game. St. Cloud would tie the game seconds after a power play opportunity of theirs expired when a puck squirted out to neutral ice that Carter Bradley gathered, skated into his own zone and threw ahead off the left side boards. Jack Wandmacher tied up his man allowing Jordan Zelenak to pick up the puck and gain the zone and he bumped it back outside to Wandmacher who scored from a tough angle to make it a 2-2 game at 15:01 of the frame. Austin would get the last goal of the period however as a hand off on the right side of the center line set up a 2-on-1 with Zacher feeding the puck from right to left and onto the tape of Ethan Lindahl. Boľo slid over to stop Lindal’s first attempt on his forehand but Boľo kept sliding and Lindahl was able to put back the rebound on his backhand in the final minute of the second period.
The only goal of the third would tie the game when Perbix tracked down a puck neither side could seem to cleanly possess in his own zone and made a right to left backhanded pass to Elmeri Hallfors who banked it off the back wall to Bradley. Bradley’s stretch pass up the right side to Sulonen was brought into the zone by the Finn and he finished the play with a snipe goal going short side, top shelf over the glove of Wiemken to tie the game 3-3 at 11:07 of the third and force overtime.
St. Cloud got four shots in the extra frame but Austin would get the overtime winner when Austin Salani cut in from across the bough and Boľo’s left and while his shot was stopped it left a rebound than Dylan Cook lifted and tucked home 2:11 into OT. The Norsemen would pick up a point for their efforts but on back-to-back nights would fall in a heartbreaker.
In the other games in the Central Division Minot and Bismarck would split their weekend series with the home crowds going home happy each night after Bismarck won 6-2 Friday and Minot prevailed 6-4 Saturday. Aberdeen hosted North Iowa and it was the visiting Bulls picking up the sweep 4-3 in overtime Saturday and 6-3 on Sunday afternoon. Those results mean the Norsemen are still just a point behind the Aberdeen Wings for second place but the race for a postseason berth just got a little tighter with the Minot Minotauros now two points behind St. Cloud, the North Iowa Bulls three points back with a game in hand and the Bismarck Bobcats trailing the Norsemen by four.
St. Cloud has a three-game series this weekend with the surging North Iowa Bulls with Friday’s game taking place in Mason City, IA while Saturday night and Sunday afternoon back in St. Cloud. Puck drops at 7:10 Friday and that game can be watched online at hockeytv.com. Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 with Sunday afternoon’s game at 3:00 and you can get tickets at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.