Coming into Friday night’s game the Bismarck Bobcats were riding a hot streak. They’d won five of their last six games, the only loss coming in overtime, and in that stretch they’d scored six or more goal three times, were never held to less than three goals, and were averaging over five goals per game. But they never faced Ethan Dahlmeir and the St. Cloud Norsemen over that stretch and the Norsemen kept the Bobcat offense at bay, stifling Bismarck to just 13 shots on goal, and grinding out a 2-0 victory, which makes six in a row for St. Cloud.
The shots on goal disparity was large in the first two periods and allowed the Norsemen to build a lead. Over three quarters of the way into the first period Bismarck brought the play into the St. Cloud zone up the right wing boards but Kade Peterson threw a heavy check that turned the puck over to Broten Sabo. Sabo made a D-to-D pass behind the Norsemen net to Duke Kiffin who found Blake Perbix at the right wing boards of the St. Cloud blue line. Perbix went back to Sabo at the Norsemen slot and he made a long outlet pass to Peterson waiting at the Bismarck blueline. Peterson one-touched it onto Andrew Clarke’s tape and Clarke fired a shot that Bobcat goalie Linards Lipskis stopped but thought he had frozen. As the puck sat in the crease a Bismarck player made a desperation clearance attempt but put it right onto the tape of Perbix who was crashing the net and Perbix fired it into the yawning net for his 13th goal of the season at 15:49 of the first, capping off a play where all five Norsemen skaters touched the puck within a span of 10 seconds. St. Cloud had a double digit edge in SOG in the first period, outshooting them 13-3.
Perbix explains how that play unfolded. “Clarkie made a good play, beat a couple D and drove hard to the net,” describes Perbix. “The goalie made a good save but Clarkie stayed with it and the puck got turned over out front and I was luckily there and put it in the net.”
The shot differential didn’t get much better for Bismarck in the second as St. Cloud outshot them 10-2. The Norsemen once again capitalized on a rebound in the period when Tyler Dysart backhanded a puck around the boards behind the Bobcat net and it came out deep in the Bismarck end along their right side boards. Diligent forechecking by newcomer Anthony Ruklic, playing in his second game with St. Cloud after starting the season with the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL, forced a turnover on an attempted clearance. The errant play put the puck right to the tape of Daniels Murnieks and he wasted no time firing a shot before Lipskis was set. The Latvian made the initial save but it left a juicy rebound in the slot low between the circles and Dysart wasted no time dropping to one knee to snap the bouncing puck into twine at 9:39 of the middle frame.
“I think it was a puck behind the net and we had a guy pressuring that caused a turnover,” recalls Dysart. “Murns got the puck and I was originally calling for it. He decided to rip it and it was a great shot, caused a rebound, and I was able to put it into the net.”
A two-goal lead was more than enough for St. Cloud to pick up the victory as Dahlmeir wouldn’t be solved all night long. Bismarck dialed up the pressure in the third period as they were able to put more pucks on net in the last twenty minutes than the opening forty, but were still outshot by St. Cloud 10-8 in the final period. The Bobcats pulled their netminder with just under a minute left but the Norsemen’s smothering defense prevented Bismarck from getting a shot on net with their extra attacker and St. Cloud held on to pick up the regulation victory.
Dysart wasn’t shy about pointing out how big the play of Dahlmeir was in picking up the victory. “I think a lot of times one shot can change the momentum, change the swing of the game,” points out Dysart. “He’s been standing on his head and when he has to make those saves, he does.”
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz, a former NAHL goaltender himself, talks about how Dahlmeir’s performance was even more impressive considering it can be tough at times for a goaltender to get in a rhythm when they don’t see a lot of shots. “Sometimes those games are tough to stay mentally focused; I think we only gave up three shots in the first period. But just understanding you’re gonna have to steal a save and unfortunately sometimes when we gave up a shot it was a ‘grade A’ look,” Kautz recalls. “He did a good job of making sure he was ready for the full sixty and made a couple saves in crucial moments to keep us with the lead. I was happy he was able to shut the door and get the shutout.”
Kautz knows the Norsemen have a lot of hard work in front of them but is happy with the play of his team as of late as they currently enjoy a six-game winning streak. “Throughout the year I think you kind of understand what it takes to win games and knowing that our division is as tight as it is, you’re trying not to shoot yourself in the foot. I think we’re still learning in the process and we need to be disciplined when it comes to the end of the games,” advises Kautz. “We gotta make sure we’re managing pucks and playing the right way. Obviously we’re very pleased to find a way to win a game while a month ago it seemed like we were finding ways to lose a game. It’s nice and rewarding to find a way and earn two points but we just gotta keep working and trust the process because the road’s only gonna get harder.”
The Norsemen’s regulation victory puts them three points ahead of the Bobcats in the standings and allowed St. Cloud to catch the Minot Minotauros with each team having 42 points in 39 games. A victory Saturday night would not only put more distance between the Norsemen and Bobcats but would allow St. Cloud to either jump ahead of Minot or, with a Tauros regulation win, would give the two squads a three-way tie for second place with the Aberdeen Wings.
Saturday’s rematch will see the puck drop at 7:00 pm at the MAC. Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.