In a game that was wild and flat out weird at times, the St. Cloud Norsemen scored twice on the power play, saw the opposition take three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, tied the game with less than a minute remaining and changed goalies in the shootout but found a way to win it on the road 4-3 in Austin.
The Bruins drew blood first as Walter Zacher camped just outside the crease and redirected a puck in from Dylan Cook 5:21 into the game. But less than four minutes later back-to-back penalties on Austin set up a 5-on-3 man advantage that the Norsemen would capitalize on. Broten Sabo tracked down the puck off an errant shot and handed it off to Blake Perbix at the left side of the goal line. Perbix fired a pass to the right circle that Peterson caught on his backhand, swung to his forehand and circled from the right to the left side. Peterson then snapped a shot at the left circle that beat Trent Wiemken far side past his glove to make it a 1-1 game at the 9:45 mark.
St. Cloud would take the lead when Daniels Murnieks fed Anthony Ruklic in the slot and Ruklic didn’t get much on his shot but the pressure caused an Austin player to crash into his own goalie. Ruklic quickly forechecked and with a timely stick lift was able to force the Bruins to cough the puck up to Elmeri Hällfors who snapped a shot from the right circle through traffic that found the back of the net 2:06 into the period. Just under ten minutes later while skating 4-on-4 the Norsemen would fail to clear their own zone and James Goffredo would keep the puck in the offensive third and feed it to Zacher who would snipe a shot top shelf, short side over the blocker of Ethan Dahlmeir but after the goal received a misconduct on the play. The Bruins’ Nate Looft then ended up taking a couple misconducts in the period as well for dropping his gloves and attempting to fight with the play dead and the officials chatting with the captains. Moments later Austin took another penalty but this time they were able to kill off the two-man advantage and eventually the teams would skate to a 2-2 tied score going into the third period.
Zacher picked up his third point of the contest after skating the puck to the left offensive faceoff dot and leaving it for Cook who skated onto it with speed, went behind the net and wrapped it around and banked it in off Dalmeir’s skate to give Austin the lead 6:18 into the third period. It looked like the score may hold up but the lone penalty called on Austin in the third came with just over two minutes left and allowed St. Cloud an opportunity to pull their goalie and enjoy a 6-on-4 advantage. From the top of the umbrella Andrew Clarke hit Kade Peterson at the right circle and he curled around to the left and fed Sabo who had rotated to the center point. Sabo one-timed the pass into the net through a ton of traffic with 50 seconds left in regulation. That would tie the game at 3 and the game would go to overtime from there.
Neither team would convert in overtime and in a rarely seen move the St. Cloud coaching staff made a goaltender switch for the shootout, putting Tomáš Boľo in relief for Dahlmeier. Boľo would end up stopping every shot he faced in five rounds and Ruklic would bury the game winner going high blocker side to give St. Cloud a sweep on the weekend.
The other two series in the Central Division also ended in sweeps as Minot and Bismarck not only kept themselves alive, they may have salvaged their seasons. Minot trailed Aberdeen going into the third period Saturday night but scored two in the final frame to skate off with a 2-1 regulation victory and sweep the Wings. Bismarck built a 3-0 lead over North Iowa and while the Bulls cut it to a one-goal contest the Bobcats eventually pulled away for a 4-2 victory to deny North Iowa any points in the series. The results leave St. Cloud three points ahead of North Iowa, six points clear of Aberdeen and Minot, who have now fallen into a tie for the fourth and final playoff spot, and eight points ahead of Bismarck.
To finish out the regular season the last two weekends will see all Central Division teams squaring off with the same opponent for the last four games, just swapping locations. St. Cloud will battle Aberdeen while Minot faces Austin and Bismarck and North Iowa keep their six-game series going. St. Cloud can clinch a playoff berth at their next game with either a victory or by picking up a point for an overtime or shootout loss and if Minot were to lose in regulation. The Norsemen can also guarantee themselves a top three finish in the division with a win of any kind and a Minot loss, either in regulation or extra time.
The next games for St. Cloud will be a home series for the Norsemen as they host the Aberdeen Wings on Friday and Saturday, April 7th and 8th. Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.