The St. Cloud Norsemen got off to a hot start, survived a rough second period with a ton of pushback from the Bobcats, and came away with a game-winner off the stick of their captain to climb up to 3rd place all alone in the Central Division standings.
St. Cloud got on the board early when pressure at neutral ice by Norsemen forwards Anthony Ruklic and Jordan Zelenak forced a turnover that St. Cloud defenseman Ryan Thomas pushed ahead to Tyler Dysart in the offensive zone. Dysart never caught up to it but his forechecking caused Bismarck to mishandle it and Zelenak then threw a check that prevented the Bobcats from ever possessing it and allowed Ruklic to skate into the turnover. He wasted no time and used two Bismarck players in the slot as a screen while firing a perfectly placed shot above Bobcat goalie Lindards Lipskis’ right leg pad and below his blocker to give St. Cloud the lead 5:59 into the game. Bismarck tied it up when Erik Atchison threw the puck from the right wing circle and it deflected off of Logan Valkama who was driving the net; the puck fluttered in to tie the game on somewhat of a fluky goal. The Norsemen would strike back less than two minutes later though, with a patient play when the Bobcats cleared their zone but Andrew Clarke took a puck at neutral ice and passed back to defenseman Wyatt Wurst. Wurst made a D-to-D pass to Carter Bradley who skated to his blue line along the right side and snapped a cross-ice pass to Kade Peterson. Peterson entered the zone onside thanks to Clarke dragging his skate to keep the play alive. Peterson drew attention from Bismarck then feathered a pass ahead to Clarke who sniped a snapshot from the left circle over Lipskis’ right shoulder short side to make it a 2-1 game at the 14:03 mark of the period and that lead would hold up going into the second period.
Despite Bismarck getting out to a strong start to the second period with some good pressure they gave up the first goal of the frame when Broten Sabo handed off a puck to Nik Hong from the St. Cloud zone and Hong banked it off the glass on his backhand to spring Dysart on a 2-on-1 with Ruklic. Dysart looked off Rucklic and fired it in over the right shoulder of Lipskis to score short side, almost the exact same shot Clarke had scored on, and make it 3-1 just 2:39 into the second. But Bismarck roared back scoring two goals in less than a minute when Adam Pietila threw a puck into the crease from the right wing boards and Julian Beaumont tapped it in. Then moments later Valkama took a shot in the high slot that left a rebound and Norsemen goalie Tomáš Boľo made the save as well as stopping the first rebound off the Erik Atchison attempt but Calvin Hanson put it home to tie the game. The Bobcats got their lone power play of the game in the second and converted when Hanson took the puck high in the slot and found Drew Holt cutting to the net from the left; Holt kicked the puck to himself and scored from a tough angle. Bismarck outshot St. Cloud 12-8 in the first frame but that advantage was 12-3 in the second.
St. Cloud winger Kade Peterson felt his squad dictated play in the third when they got back to playing Norsemen hockey. “We struggled in the second, we played alright in the first, but the third period we came alive when we just got back to moving our legs and working hard and playing the right way,” Peterson evaluates.
The Norsemen went into the third trailing 4-3 but tied the game when Sabo raced back into his defensive zone and tracked down a loose puck before a pursuing Bobcat could get to it, and threw it up to the left side boards to Peterson who was in front of the St. Cloud bench. Peterson hit Clarke at neutral ice on a give-and-go and got it right back from Clarke up the left wing boards with speed. Peterson dangled and fire a shot that went off the crossbar but the puck fell into the crease and Peterson was able to tuck it home on the backhand at the 12:23 mark to force overtime. “The puck just kind of stayed on my stick somehow and I threw it to the net, it went off the crossbar and it took a crazy bounce right to the backdoor, right on my tape, and I just put it it,” assesses Peterson. “Kinda lucky.”
For a split second at the 2:25 mark of overtime it looked like Beaumont had won the game for Bismarck when a puck rolled up Boľo that Beaumont tapped in but the referee immediately waived it off indicating it had been played with a high stick above the crossbar and movec the faceoff down to the Bismarck end. The Bobcats would never touch the puck again as eight seconds later after Hong won the offensive zone draw to Peterson and Peterson stickhandled, drawing all three Bismarck players in the 3-on-3 towards him. That opened up Hong on the far side and Peterson slid a backhanded pass to Hong that he one-timed from one knee to score the walk-off winner at 2:33 of overtime.
Peterson talks us through how that play developed. “I came up the wall and they tried to pinch me off from below and above but they gave me the middle of the ice so I just turned,” explains Peterson. “The guy that was covering Hong kind of came to me and I saw Hong wide open back door, so I just gave it to him. I didn’t even see him shoot it, I just saw it go in.”
Hong got the game winner but gives most of the credit to Peterson for making that play in overtime. “It started off with the draw; Pete helped us win it back. Pete won a board battle, made a nice play, made a nice move and slid it over to me,” describes Hong. “All I really had to do was get some good wood on it, get it elevated and hit the net. It was a pretty easy goal; he made a really nice play so credit to him.”
The Norsemen were down in the second period but not out, and Hong assures the team never lost faith. “It was definitely an up and down game. They kind of took it to us in that second period. But I think we’re pretty resilient, we had belief throughout the entire game,” Hong explains. “A couple guys made some plays, a fortunate break on the no goal, and to have that momentum switch and then go down and score definitely felt good.”
The two teams meet again Saturday night at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck. Puck drops at 7:15 pm and can be watched on hockeytv.com.
The Norsemen return back to St. Cloud for home games Friday and Saturday, February 17th and 18th vs. the Minot Minotauros. Friday the 17th will be Charlie Boike Night; 50% of the money from tickets sold will go towards the Charlie Boike Scholarship Fund. Also on Friday the 17th the first 100 fans will receive a free Norsemen winter beanie provided by Franklin Graphics & Outdoor Advertising. You can get your tickets for that game and all games at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.