The St. Cloud Norsemen played their last two games against the Minnesota Wilderness over the weekend in a home-and-home, with the road teams each coming away victorious.
Friday night in Cloquet the two teams battled in a goalie dual that saw fantastic performances out of St. Cloud’s Tomáš Boľo and Minnesota’s Isak Posch. The opening goal of the game was set up with strong pressure by the Norsemen in the Wilderness’ defensive zone. Both forwards Elmeri Hällfors in his first game with St. Cloud and Blake Perbix were forechecking aggressively and closing down lanes and that caused a pass by Minnesota winger Donovan O’Neil to glance off Perbix’s skate and out to center ice where Norsemen defenseman Evan Pahos gathered it, spun, and darted back into the offensive zone. As Pahos crossed the blue line he toe-dragged around one opponent and acted as a magnet, drawing in skaters and attention on himself in the slot, then made a handoff pass at the right circle to Daniels Murnieks. Murnieks waited for Hällfors to skate in front of Posch to take his eyes away and then sniped a goal in the top right corner of the net to give St. Cloud a 1-0 lead 11:06 into the first period.
Through the first twenty minutes the Wilderness held a slim lead in the shots on goal department 8-7, but the home team really dialed up the pressure in the second and third periods. After each team had one power play opportunity in the first period the Wilderness had the only power play chances in the second and used those situations to outshoot St. Cloud 13-3 in the second frame. Boľo was methodical in making saves and controlling his rebounds and got the Norsemen to the third period with the 1-0 lead.
Once again, the Wildereness peppered the net in the third period, outshooting the Norsemen 13-5 but once again couldn’t solve Boľo. The Wilderness had two of the three power play chances in the period, including in the final minute, and along with the goalie pulled they had a 6-on-4 advantage but couldn’t convert. The Norsemen played a complete team game and blocked a ton of shots, skating away with the 1-0 road victory with Boľo posting a 34-save shutout.
Former goaltender and St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz was very impressed with Boľo’s performance. “He was very sharp from the drop of the puck, you could tell he was on top of his game. When you’re feeling that way, the puck just comes a little slower, the game comes a little slower, so it was great to see that he played as well as he did,” says Kautz. “We don’t win that game without great goaltending so it was good to see and he made a lot of important saves at crucial times.”
Boľo was quick to pass the praise around. “The guys really helped me on Friday. Even though the Wilderness were all over us and dominated parts of the game, I think we played the right way,” compliments Boľo. “I felt the support and the belief the guys had in me and that’s what pushed me forward to finish the game without giving up a goal, which we needed to get the win.”
Kautz also thought that despite getting outshot by a wide margin, the Norsemen skaters in front of Boľo did what they needed to. “(On the) Penalty kill we did a good job of keeping sticks in lanes, not letting them go through our box and seam pass us and make Boľo work even more,” Kautz explains. “5 on 5 we did a good job in our D-Zone of shutting things down. Especially on a big rink, when you’re shooting from outside the dots there’s a little more time than a typical NHL sized rink.”
The Norsemen blocked countless shots throughout the night and that didn’t go unnoticed by the coaching staff. “It’s very important, it’s huge; it’s kind of a momentum thing when you’ve got guys sacrificing their bodies to block a shot,” Kautz points out. “It kinda gets people involved and they love to see it. It is contagious; if you see one of your teammates do it you’re gonna do it too.”
While St. Cloud kept Minnesota off the scoresheet and the Norsemen went 5 for 5 on the penalty kill, eventually playing with fire against a team with as potent of a power play as the Wilderness have will burn you. Saturday night St. Cloud took the first two penalties of the contest and just seconds into the second power play chance Minnesota converted. They won a faceoff back to Michael Quinn who made a D to D pass that Gustav Ozolins one-timed and in the slot Joe Cesario tipped it past Boľo to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. The Wilderness weren’t done in the frame however, as Adam Johnson was able to shoot and score even with two Norsemen defending him tightly to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead at 14:22 that they took into the locker room.
St. Cloud outshot Minnesota 10-9 and increased their lead in that category 14-11 in the second but it was again Johnson finding the back of the net, this time 10:18 into the period. Captain Gunnar Thoreson set up Quinn who teed up a shot in the slot from one knee that left a rebound which Johnson backhanded upstairs to make it a 3-0 lead going into the third.
The Norsemen broke onto the scoresheet on just their second power play of the night and fifth of the weekend halfway through the final period. An errant pass intended for the Norsemen blueline banked all the way down to their own goalie and Boľo wasted no time with a long outlet pass to Daniels Murnieks who was waiting at the left side of the far blue line. Murnieks carried it in, drew some attention and then protected the puck before finding Tyler Dysart at the top of the right circle. Dysart aimed and fired, kissing it in off the left goal post past Konrad Kausch at 9:08 of the third, but it was the only time St. Cloud would solve the Duluth native who made 31 saves in the victory. The Wilderness would add an empty net goal with seven seconds left in the contest to make it a 4-1 final. The Norsemen’s penalty kill climbed to 6th of the 29 NAHL teams with an 85.3% rate after going 9 for 10 on the kill and the Wilderness fell from first to second on the power play, down to 29.3%.
After the game Norsemen fans hit the ice and skated with the Norsemen players. The St. Cloud Norsemen have two home games this coming weekend against the Minot Minotauros on Friday and Saturday December 9th and 10th. Tickets can be purchased at https://tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com/.