The St. Cloud Norsemen host the Minot Minotauros for a pair of games this weekend with a ton on the line in the Central Division standings. Minot sits in fourth place with 44 points and currently possesses the last postseason slot in the Central standings. They’re just two points clear of Bismarck and three points ahead of North Iowa with the Bulls having a game in hand. St. Cloud finds themselves in third with a three-point cushion over Minot but just a single point behind Aberdeen for second. Neither team can afford an off night as there isn’t much wiggle room in the standings with two months left in the regular season.
The Norsemen have been red hot as of late; their 9-game point streak is currently the second longest in the NAHL behind Oklahoma’s 13, and they’re 8-0-0-1 in that stretch. St. Cloud may be catching Minot at the right time; the Minotauros are 2-5-0-0 in their last seven games and have only scored 12 goals in that stretch.
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz doesn’t for a moment though feel that the Minotauros will be a pushover. “They’re for sure gonna be hungry and probably pissed off. Any time you get swept and swept at home you’re gonna try to figure out what went wrong and find ways to improve. I think sometimes it’s digging deep and working harder so we expect them to play at a high level coming into our building,” explains Kautz. “For us, after the last series we had versus them in Minot, I think we have something to prove to ourselves. Those games were close and we had the lead kind of late in the game and we unfortunately found a way to lose a hockey game. I know the feeling in our locker room is this is definitely a team that we owe one to and we’re very excited because they’re a great hockey team. We’re excited for the challenge.”
Minot is paced by Hunter Longhi (14-36-50) who is fourth in the NAHL in points and second in assists. Nick O’Hanisain leads the blueline with 26 points (8-18-26) while Chase LaPinta (23-13-36) is second in rookie scoring and Trevor Stachowiak (10-17-27) and Justin Dauphinais (11-15-26) have also reached the quarter century mark. LaPinta is tied for second in points amongst rookies. In between the pipes Minot is led by Lawton Zacher with a record of 12-5-0-1, his .927 save percentage is third in the NAHL and his 2.22 goals against average ranks 10th in the league.
Minot hasn’t scored more than three goals in their last seven and is averaging less than two goals over that time. With Minot struggling to score goals as of late, the natural question that comes to mind is “Is the game plan to try to keep them to two goals or less?” When asked that Kautz chuckles in a way that implies that’s easier said than done. “Anytime you only give up one or two goals you generally like your chances. Had a coach in college say ‘It’s a 3-2 league.’ If you get to three your chances of winning are a lot more likely,” Kautz reasons. “They definitely have a lot of guys that can make you pay. Even in their last game they scored three power play goals, so they have guys. They have a lot of skill up front and if you’re not disciplined and managing the puck, they’ll make you pay. We just gotta be ready, make sure we’re playing the right way and we’re disciplined. We try to eliminate a lot of those opportunities.”
St. Cloud has their own set of playmakers with Kade Peterson leading the team in goals and points (17-20-37) and Broten Sabo pacing the team in assists and is third in the NAHL in points amongst defensemen (7-25-32). Blake Perbix (13-23-36) and Andrew Clarke (13-19-32) are both north of 30 points while Clarke is sixth in rookie scoring. Ethan Dahlmeir, fresh off being named the NAHL Bauer Hockey Central Star of the Week last week, has had fantastic numbers all season. His .924 save percentage is fifth in the league and his 2.17 goals against average ranks eighth amongst goalies.
A victory on Friday for the Norsemen would increase their lead over the Minotauros and with some help from the North Iowa Bulls, St. Cloud could even overtake the Aberdeen Wings for sole possession of second in the Central. Friday will be Charlie Boike Night; 50% of the money from tickets sold will go towards the Charlie Boike Scholarship Fund. Also on Friday the first 100 fans will receive a free Norsemen winter beanie provided by Franklin Graphics & Outdoor Advertising. You can get your tickets for that game and all games at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.