The St. Cloud Norsemen have seven games remaining in the regular season and with four weekends to play are tied with the suddenly hot North Iowa Bulls for second place in the Central Division standings. There’s a lot to play for each and every game and the standings are so tight that St. Cloud, North Iowa and Aberdeen could all very realistically finish anywhere from second place to missing the playoffs while both Minot and Bismarck are still in the mix to make a late run and get back into the postseason scene.
While the Norsemen were disappointed to only pick up a split this past weekend, that was also the fate of Minot and Bismarck. Preventing the bottom two teams from gaining any ground on St. Cloud isn’t a bad result . The weekend leaves the two North Dakota squads with the same deficit as before but with two less games in which to gain some ground, and in the case of Minot, two fewer home games as six of their final eight are on the road.
“Obviously we had our minds set on winning two games but let’s face it, we did not play well Friday and we didn’t deserve to win that game. Minot was the better team that night,” admits St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz. “But Saturday we found a way to play a lot harder, a lot better and were awarded two points at the end of it.”
Sometimes sports can be results based, where onlookers focus too much on if a team won or lost without looking at the effort or the process, but for Kautz the product the Norsemen put on the ice Friday to Saturday was night and day different. “I thought we came out Saturday, like most teams do after losing the game Friday; just from the beginning (Saturday) our first period was our best of the weekend. We were working harder all over the ice, we were getting chances and understanding that Zacher’s a really good goalie and we have to make him feel uncomfortable if you wanna score on him,” Kautz assesses. “It’s a part of the process and trying to learn every game the things you can work on. When you don’t win, ‘Why is that?’ Understanding the little areas of the game; puck management, things of that nature, obviously play a big role into finding success. I think our team does a pretty good job of applying what we talk about in our meetings and in our film and putting it into use in the game. It’s nice to see that happen and get rewarded on top of it.”
Kautz realizes that at this juncture of the season, games and points can’t be regained down the road and it’s crunch time when it comes to the Norsemen looking to make the postseason. “We have some tough opponents coming up and the one nice thing is if we do the things in our control we can put ourselves in a good spot moving into the playoffs,” Kautz points out. “The last thing you want to rely on is for other teams to lose or for points to go a certain way. We’re in a position where if we control what we can control and play some good hockey down the stretch, I like our chances of moving into the playoffs and hopefully be in a seed where we can succeed.”
St. Cloud’s magic number is down to 5.0; meaning they clinch a playoff spot with five wins, five regulation losses by the fifth place team (which is currently Minot, but could change) or any combination of five of those results benefitting the Norsemen. They have a rare night off on Friday in which they and Austin will scoreboard watch while the rest of the division competes. Minot is in Mason City, IA taking on North Iowa for a pair this weekend and Aberdeen travels to Bismarck for the Friday and Saturday series. Rooting interests can vary as Minot and Bismarck victories would help the Norsemen when it comes to current standings and seeding but North Iowa and Aberdeen wins would help St. Cloud secure a postseason berth.
The Norsemen travel to Austin, MN Saturday for their lone game of the weekend, and the puck drops at 7:05 from Riverside Arena. You can watch the game at hockeytv.com. Their next home game is Thursday, March 30th, with the puck dropping at 7:00 and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com. These are the first two of three straight against the Bruins, with St. Cloud finishing the season with four straight against the Aberdeen Wings.