The St. Cloud Norsemen travel to Minot for the second time this season this weekend to battle the Minotauros for a three game weekend. These teams met less than a month ago in St. Cloud with the Norsemen coming away with a sweep on the weekend, winning 4-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday. Both wins came in regulation and Minot was swept by Austin the weekend before and lost their next game the following weekend in Bismarck, which means they picked up zero points over three weekends. They bounced back nicely last weekend, sweeping Bismarck in three games, so the Tauros are trending in the right direction and likely have the last series with St. Cloud on their mind as motivation for revenge.
St. Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz is pleased with the effort the Norsemen put forth in that sweep back on December 9th and 10th. “We were playing a pretty consistent game; as close to 60 minutes as we could I thought,” compliments Kautz. “We were able to execute on our chances, I thought the guys worked hard and we were fortunate to get a couple lucky bounces. It’s nice when things go your way and you can find a way to win.”
Hunter Longhi (12-25-37 in 31 GP), the fourth year NAHL player with his fourth NAHL team in Minot, leads the Tauros in assists, points, power play assists and shots. He’s backed up by Chase LaPinta (13-12-25 in 27 GP) who leads the team in goals and +/-, though Minot has five skaters with 20 or more points, including defenseman Nick O’Hanisain (7-14-21 in 27 GP). In between the pipes the Minotauros have a pretty steady rotation with Lawton Zacher leading the way in almost every statistical category including record (10-3-0-1), goals against average (2.39), shots on goal (438), saves (403), save percentage (.920%), minutes (879) and games played (15). Dane Couture is the other half of that duo posting a 3.41 goals against average and .881 save percentage in 12 games played.
Assistant Coach Kautz feels that playing three games in three days isn’t that different as far as the preparation on game day, but things certainly change a bit leading up to the game. “I think you’re a little more aware of the week leading up to it, understanding the travel, the three games, making sure the guys are as prepared as they can be and as well rested as they can be and doing the little things away from the rink,” Kautz explains. He also sees some positives to the trio of games. “We’ve got some young kids that are used to playing four, five, six games on the weekend in a AAA tournament. So sometimes it’s nice to just have those games, not worry about practicing as much and just being able to play a lot is great.”
The Norsemen are looking to bounce back from a couple tough losses in Aberdeen last weekend, both while leading in the third period. The Wings tied up the game twelve and a half minutes into the third on Friday and won the game 3-2 in a shootout then scored twice in the last five minutes Saturday, including the game winner with 23 seconds left, to come away with a 2-1 victory.
“I thought for the most part I thought we played pretty hard (in Aberdeen), we played pretty well, we just weren’t capitalizing on the chances that we had. I think we had seven or eight breakaways on the weekend and I don’t think we scored on any of them. A lot of quality looks that our guys were able to get and work for but not enough execution,” reflects Kautz. “At the other end of the rink a puck is thrown at the net and it hits off a player’s arm and goes in and that’s how it works sometimes.”
Not all NAHL divisions are as close in the standings as the Central is, where 20 points separate first place Austin and last place Bismarck, while in the South that differential is 31 points and in the East it’s 38. There are only 10 points separating 2nd place and 5th in the Central, and Kautz believes that’s a good indicator of how tight games seem to be night in and night out. “We just have to find a way to maximize our chances and try not to have it be a close game at the end,” reasons Kautz. “But it always is; every team is good in our division and it seems like every game is close no matter who you’re playing, no matter where you are in the standings, so we need to be ready for that.”
The puck drops for Thursday night’s game at 7:05 pm and Friday and Saturday the action gets underway at 7:35. All three games can be watched online at hockeytv.com. The next home game for the Norsemen is on Saturday, January 14th against the Austin Bruins and tickets for that contest can be purchased online at .