The St. Cloud Norsemen picked up a huge four points in the NAHL Central division standings this weekend with a couple regulation victories against the Austin Bruins. You can read the recap of Friday’s game here and Saturday’s game here.
The Norsemen currently find themselves in a position they’d rather not be in when it comes to the standings, but with a record of 15-16-4 not only are they just a point back of Bismarck and they only trail North Iowa, their opponent this weekend, by two points. They’re also reaching the point of the season where last year the team caught fire down the stretch.
In the 2021 portion of the 2021-22 season the Norsemen had a very respectable record of 14-10-1. But at exactly this time last year St. Cloud had won three games in a row and had just swept Minot on the weekend. Those were the first three wins of a Norsemen organization record 13-game winning streak. Before that streak began on January 15th, 2022, St. Cloud had a record of 15-13-1 but that streak would catapult the Norsemen to finish 26-3-2 in their final 31 games, including winning their last five regular season games in regulation, and their 41-16-3 record gave them 85 points in the standings, a whopping 17 clear of 2nd place Austin.
“Obviously every year is different but I think we are in a similar spot as last year,” points out third year Norsemen Captain Nik Hong. “At the end of the day it all comes down to ‘buy in’ and execution. I think this is why we had success last year. This group this year definitely has the potential to the best team in the division and I have confidence we can build week-by-week and get to that point.”
In order to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and that’s precisely what St. Cloud did this past weekend against the Austin Bruins. In a tight Central division where just seven points seperated 2nd from 6th place, the Bruins have a 12 point lead on all other teams in the division, and it would have been more if not for the Norsemen. Austin was riding a five-game winning streak into last weekend and had picked up at least a point in their last seven games. The Bruins hadn’t lost a series since December 9th and 10th in Aberdeen and this past weekend was the first time all season that they picked up 0 points on the weekend. Also, Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Riverside Arena was just the third time this year Austin had been shutout and the second time it had happened in their own building. Both times were at the hands of the Norsemen, with the first being a 1-0 St. Cloud shootout victory back on September 24th.
St. Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz talks about the performance of Ethan Dahlmeir in that 25-save shutout on the road Saturday. “He was great, I think we gave up three or four breakaways and he was able to shut those down and weather the storm. We gave up a few too many chances in my opinion but he was calm and confident but he was playing the way that we know he can play,” Kautz compliments. “It was nice to get rewarded with the shutout but even more important to get two wins for our team.”
On the other end of the ice the Norsemen scored nine goals on the weekend, eight when facing a goalie in net, and Kautz breaks down why the Norsemen were able to have such success offensively. “I think a lot of it was the guys putting in work, which I think we’ve been doing a better job of consistently getting to the net front and getting shots through and our power play has been helping us out,” notes Kautz. “Anytime you can generate some second chance opportunities and Clarkie had a great individual effort on the one here Friday night. Sometimes it’s puck luck, sometimes it’s guy’s going to the net and hitting your shin pad and going in but we’ll take ‘em anyway that we can.”
Special teams has been a big part of the Norsemen’s success, both lately and on the season. The Norsemen killed off 9 of 10 penalties on the weekend and 136 of 160 on the season, with their 85.0% kill rate ranking 5th of the 29 NAHL teams. “The penalty kill; the biggest part is having your goalie stand on their head. They’re asked to make some quality saves and both of our goalies have been able to do that on the penalty kill,” explains Kautz. “The guys that are out there have bought in; they understand that as you get to the later parts of the season, you kind of understand what we’re running and you get a bunch of individuals that work together for one goal.”
The Norsemen also have found back of the net consistently on the man advantage as well lately, converting 8 of 23 chances they’ve had in the month of January. On the season they’ve scored 28 power play goals on 130 chances with their 21.5% conversion rate good for 7th in the league. Though, Kautz points out not all power play goals are created equal. “You kind of look at some of the power play goals we’re scoring and they go in the power play stats but there’s been a couple unique situations where broken down plays kind of end up on our stick and we’re able to get a goal,” concedes Kautz. “But, the guys are moving the puck, they’re trying to be creative and they’re making plays. When you play in this league you’ve got a lot of guys that have a lot of skill so sometimes you’ve gotta let them play and make the plays that they know that they can make.
“Special teams is very important and we understand that you wanna be at the top of your division, top of the league if you can just because you know how it creates momentum and can change a game,” expounds Kautz.
The Norsemen look to keep their winning ways rolling this weekend with a 3-game series against the North Iowa Bulls. Friday’s game will be at 7:00 and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.
Saturday’s game in Mason City will have the puck drop at 7:10 pm and Sunday’s afternoon game, a make up game from a game missed in December due to poor travelling conditions, will start at 3:10 pm. (The make up date for the game vs. the Bulls missed in December in St. Cloud is Sunday March 5th at 3:00 pm). Both games at North Iowa this weekend can be watched online at hockeytv.com.