The Central Division standings were close going into the weekend and teams remain stacked on top of one another with everyone in the division picking up a regulation loss. St. Cloud Norsemen was one of five teams to go .500 over the weekend as they went 1-1-1 against the North Iowa Bulls.
The weekend began with a weird goal in Mason City Friday night when the Bulls rimmed a puck around the boards behind their own net but it took an odd bounce off the kickplate and right to Jack Wandmacher who backhanded it past North Iowa goalie Mitch Day. It was the only goal of the opening 20 minutes and Byron Hartley would score for North Iowa in the closing minute of the second period, setting the table for a wild and furious 3rd period with the scored tied at 1-1.
Just two goals were scored in the first 47 minutes but the teams would combine for six tallies in the last 12:38 of regulation, starting off when Tyler Dysart scored from one knee in the slot, finishing off a below the goal line feed from Blake Perbix on the power play to make it a 2-1 game. North Iowa’s Simone Dadie and Blauke Ulve would score just 22 seconds apart over halfway through the period to give the home squad a 3-2 lead but that would be erased in an instant when Severi Sulonen rifled a wrister home just above the left circle. The Turku, Finland native scored his second goal in just his fifth game in a Norsemen uniform and that made it 3-3 going into the final minute. From there Andrew Clarke muscled away a loose puck from one opponent near his own net and slipped around a second leading to an odd-man rush; Dysart took a tough angle shot that Clarke poked the rebound in with 45 seconds left, which looked like it would be the game winner. But the lively boards that aided St. Cloud on their first goal came back to haunt them in the closing seconds of regulation as a puck dumped into the right corner popped right out to Logan Dombrowsky as if it was planned and he scored just 18 seconds after Clarke did to send the game to overtime.
Neither team could find the back of the net in the five minute 3-on-3 format which brought us to a shootout that would end up going six rounds. Clarke buried one five-hole on the forehand, Dysart lifted one over Day’s left pad on the backhand and Kade Peterson tucked one in five-hold on the backhand but it wasn’t enough as North Iowa converted on four of their six attempts to steal the extra point and win by a 5-4 final.
On Saturday night the venue switched to St. Cloud for the rematch and Jack Seaverson put the visiting Bulls up 1-0 with the lone goal of the first but it took just 15 seconds into the second for the Norsemen to even it up. Daniels Murnieks won the opening faceoff cleanly back to his right defenseman Carter Bradley who made a D-to-D pass to Broten Sabo and got it right back from Sabo. Bradley found a lane and made a long right to left pass from blueline to blueline and onto the tape of Wandmacher, who was playing in his 100th NAHL game. Wandmacher took a shot that left a rebound and Murnieks tucked it home to tie the game at one apiece. Seven minutes later North Iowa would regain the lead with a Nolan Abraham goal but the Norsemen would respond in kind just over two minutes later when Clarke danced behind the North Iowa net and eluded two Bulls skaters before trying a wraparound attempt that Day stopped but he couldn’t locate the rebound and defenseman Ryan Thomas, who had pinched down low after sensing blood in the water, tapped home to tie the game 2-2 at the 9:49 mark.
Clarke set up that goal but scored his own after Wandmacher and Bradley both blocked consecutive Bulls shots and Duke Kiffin fished out the loose puck and threw it to neutral ice and Clarke, who had just come off the bench. On a 2-on-1 with Perbix, Clarke patiently waited, toe-dragged around one player and scored to give St. Cloud their first lead of the evening. The Norsemen would double the lead on Murnieks’ second of the period when a shot from the right wing boards deflected to the left corner but Sabo stepped up and poked it to Wandmacher. From the left circle Wandmacher backhand shoveled a pass to Murnieks in the slot who fired high, glove side on Day to make it a 4-2 game going into the third period.
St. Cloud would put the game away in the third period on a power play when Sabo skated the puck down low through the right circle and handed off to Dysart. Dysart found Perbix camped out in front of the net from the goalie’s right and he slammed Dysart’s pass home at 13:26 to make the final 5-2.
Sunday’s game was a frustrating one for St. Cloud as they outshot North Iowa for the game (34-20) and in both the first and third period (with each team getting 8 SOG in the second) but neither team could get on the board in the opening frame. Tomáš Boľo was in net for the Norsemen on back-to-back days while Mitch Day got the start for North Iowa for the third game in as many days and helped his team build a 2-0 lead going into the third thanks to goals by Dombrowsky and Eli Miller. For the third game in a row the Norsemen would record a power play goal when Sabo controlled play up top of the left circle and found Clarke down low at the same circle; Clarke attempted to hit Perbix on the far side from a tough angle but the puck took a fortuitous bounce off a Bull skate and goaltender Day was sliding in the wrong direction as it brought St. Cloud within one 1:00 into the third. Unfortunately, that’s as close as the game would get and Jack Mesic would ice it at 19:34 with an empty net goal to make the final 3-1. The fans didn’t go home upset though, as they had an opportunity to skate with the Norsemen afterwards in a post game skate.
The Norsemen and Bulls each would score 10 goals in the series despite St. Cloud outshooting North Iowa 101 to 72 for the weekend. The Norsmen’s power play finished 3 for 12 while the Bulls went 1 for 11 in the series. Both teams gained points on the other four teams in the Central Division as North Iowa picked up four points after going 2-1-0 and St. Cloud managed three points in as many games with a 1-1-1 record. In true NAHL Central Division fashion, the other two series were splits, and fortunately all of those games ended in regulation with no additional overtime/shootout loss points being handed out. Minot won 4-2 in Aberdeen Friday night but the Wings bounced back for a big 6-1 home victory Saturday while Bismarck held home ice 4-1 against Austin on Friday but the Bruins rebounded with a 7-1 road win Saturday night. St. Cloud currently sits tied with Aberdeen for 2nd with 53 points and North Iowa currently has possession of the last playoff spot, two points back with 51. The two North Dakota squads are on the outside of the postseason picture looking in but aren’t far behind with Minot one point out at 50 and Bismarck three points out with 48 in the bank.
St. Cloud has two home games coming up this weekend versus the Bismarck Bobcats and Friday night’s game is Fleet Farm’s First Responders’ Night, with ticket proceeds benefiting the Great St. Cloud Public Safety Foundation. Both Friday and Saturday’s game will see the puck drop at 7:00 and you can get your tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.