This weekend the St. Cloud Norsemen head west to begin a stretch of six games away from home, the most road games they’ll play in a row all season. They also bring with them a three-game winning streak, all of which were in regulation, which means they’ve not only picked up six points over those games, but in a tight Central Division standings race, more importantly they’ve conceded no points to their opponents in those three games.
Aberdeen heads into the weekend with a record of 15-9-3, good for 33 points and 2nd place in the division. St. Cloud has their last two opponents, North Iowa and Minot, in their sights and could potentially catch or pass either or both this weekend with a win or two and some help from Austin and Bismarck, respectively.
The Wings are six games above .500 but with just a +5 goal differential their numbers haven’t been spectacular, they’ve just been solid and above average in almost every statistical category. They have no skaters or forwards in the top 50 in the league in points, no rookies or defensemen in the top 35 and no qualified goalies in the top 20 in the league in goals against average or save percentage, but they’re getting it done not with individual accolades but as a team. Their power play ranks 19th of 29 teams converting at 17.6%, their penalty kill is 8th successfully killing off penalties 83.5% of the time, they’re 11th in goals per game with 3.11, 13th in goals against per game at 2.93, 14th in shots per game with 30.93 and 21st in shots against per game at 32.56. While their stats trending towards the middle of the pack may seem less threatening, it also makes coaching against them hard, as they don’t have any glaring weaknesses to attack or one strong aspect of their game that if neutralized would hinder their game. Aberdeen is also a great closer; they’re 8-2-2 in games when they score first, 10-0-0 when leading after two periods and 3-0-3 in games decided by just one goal.
“They’re a solid team, they compete, and they’ll work hard. They’re gonna make you beat them to win games,” compliments St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen. “We’re going to have to play extremely well, disciplined and play within ourselves.”
Another area that Aberdeen has been really good this season is on their home ice, the Odde Ice Center. The Wings are 8-4-1 in Aberdeen and one of just two teams in the division that have won more than half of their home games and Coach Millen is well aware of their success in their own barn. “It’s a tough building; and it’s a fun building to play in so I’m excited to see how the boys react,” Millen remarks. “It’s a really good challenge for us.”
Unlike a lot of the successful teams in the league, Aberdeen is being led by players not only new to the Wings this season but new to the league. Their leading three scorers and four of the top five didn’t play in a single game in the NAHL last season including a couple of foreign players in Belarusian Nikolai Tishkevich (11-11-22 in 27 GP) and Finn Alexander Gullichsen (10-9-19 in 27 GP). Landon Parker (7-12-19 in 23 GP) played six games for the Minnesota Wilderness two seasons ago but spent last season in the BCHL and Kyle Contessa (6-11-17 in 23 GP) comes to the league from the NCDC. Patrick O’Connell (3-15-18) is the lone returning Wing with more than 15 points that may be a familiar name to Norsemen fans from last season; this is his second season in Aberdeen after playing in one game for the Janesville Jets in 2020-21.
In net Aberdeen has leaned heavily on Cole Moore, who has appeared in 21 games, second most in the NAHL. And while his numbers have been good with a 2.57 goals against average and a .923 save percentage, injury has played a factor in him getting so much time in so far. Geno Pichora, who played 20 games in the NAHL for the Danbury Jr. Hatricks two seasons ago, split the four games of the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, MN but then an injury to Pichora took him out of the lineup for two and a half months. Aberdeen has had three different goaltenders called up for Pichora’s place but only one game, Friday, September 23rd, featured any of the netminders. The next night Moore played and that started a stretch of 17 straight games where not only Moore started all the games but played every second of every game.
“They’ve been banged up; I know early in the season they were banged up in the back of the net and they had to figure some things out,” Millen points out. “I think they’ve gotten healthy since then and Pichora’s healthy. We’ll have to see how that shakes out but Moore’s been good and they’ve been having success.”
The games will be played Friday and Saturday with the puck dropping both nights at 7:15 pm. Both games can be seen online at hockeytv.com. The next home game for the Norsemen is Saturday, January 14th, and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.