The St. Cloud Norsemen kept their winning ways going Saturday night in Bismarck as they’re on a nine-game point streak and have won eight of those nine contests. Unlike the previous night though, St. Cloud got the victory in regulation, as they hung on for a 4-3 victory to put a damper on the Bobcats’ postseason outlook and the night’s post game jersey auction.
The Norsemen got on the board first just nine seconds into the first power play chance the Bobcats had on the evening. Broten Sabo and Kade Peterson poked at a loose puck that Bismarck won back to the point on the faceoff, but St. Cloud captain Nik Hong pressured the Bobcats’ Drew Holt and broke up the attempted pass with the shaft of his stick. With his opposition caught flat-footed Hong cut in on a breakaway and just outskated the backcheckers then went forehand-backhand and tucked the puck in thigh high on the netminder at 8:45 of the first period. It was the only goal of the frame and not surprising as there were just eight shots on goal combined in the opening 20 minutes, with St. Cloud enjoying the 5-3 advantage as well as the 1-0 lead on the scoreboard.
The second period was much more open with the Norsemen outshooting the Bobcats 15-6 and once again the first St. Cloud goal of the period came with Bismarck on the power play. The Norsemen penalty kill remained aggressive and Daniels Murnieks threw a heavy hit at neutral ice which disrupted the play and allowed Peterson a chance to steal the puck. Peterson came in from the left side and used the last defenseman back as a partial screen, firing a quick wrist shot right between Hunter Garvey’s legs scoring five-hole 3:18 into the period.
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz said the team stressed the importance of shutting down the Bismarck Bobcat power play before the game. “Special teams this time of year can make or break a game and can be a deciding factor. After last night, giving up a power play goal, we stressed the importance of being sharp and understanding the assignments,” Kautz confides. “We were fortunate to get a couple goals there and turn things around and shut down their power play tonight after them going 100% on it last night.”
Adam Pietila scored a goal in the upper right hand corner of the net at 12:09 of the second to cut the lead to one but Jordan Zelenak muscled a puck away from the Bobcats in the offensive corner late in the frame, Duke Kiffin poked it forward to Lucca Munoz and Munoz sniped one top shelf short side from Garvey’s right 18:17 into the period to put the Norsemen on top 3-1 going into the third.
Kautz speaks about Munoz’s effort as the Chicago, IL native has just been with the Norsemen since the last week of January. “That was a pretty skilled goal going from backhand to forehand, short side high and he was able to elevate that puck over Garvey,” compliments Kautz. “Even besides that goal I think tonight he did a pretty good job. For his size, he may not be known for a good amount of physicality but he gets into guys, he plays hard and he did a pretty good job along the wall as a winger. He plays a great style of hockey that somebody wouldn’t think he would play.”
The third started out great for St. Cloud as they would add to their lead just 87 seconds in. Blake Perbix was knocked down in the offensive right corner but from his stomach was still able to outstretch and pass the puck to Sabo above and between the circles. Sabo fed it to Andrew Clarke above the right circle and Clarke’s shot somehow got through a sea of bodies and into the net cleanly, thanks in large part to a screen set by Perbix to take away the goalie’s eyes. But the Norsmen weren’t able to skate off comfortably to a win as Bismarck would capitalize on tic-tac-toe passing to get Tyler Bautko’s first NAHL goal at 3:28 of the period and Pietila picked up his second of the game with a laser of a shot in the slot that beat Norsemen goalie Ethan Dahlmeir high glove to make it a 4-3 game at 17:29. St. Cloud would hold on for the last two and a half minutes though, aided in part by a cross-checking penalty with 14.4 seconds remaining in the St. Cloud end that sent the puck all the way down into the Bismarck zone. It also took the Bobcats from six skaters with their goalie pulled to just four needing to put Garvey back in the crease and after a desperation puck was sent the length of the ice Dahlmeir stopped it but pushed it into the corner to avoid a last second faceoff and sealed the St. Cloud victory.
Dahlmeir finished with 19 saves on 22 shots on goal but the numbers don’t quite tell the whole story. Kautz reflects on the goals given up by St. Cloud on the night. “Going back and looking at them, they were all pretty good shots,” Kautz assesses. “I still think as a whole, with all five skaters on the ice we could have done a little bit better job to not let those plays happen. He did a good job and was sharp in the third period even though we gave up two goals. He made a couple big saves and that’s what we need this time of the year by our goaltending. Pleased he was able to get a win for us.”
For the second night in a row St. Cloud was temporarily in second place in the Central when their game finished but both nights Aberdeen defeated Minot in regulation to remain a point ahead of the Norsemen. Both teams gained ground on everyone else in the division as North Iowa and Austin each picked up just two, Bismarck just one and Minot failed to gain any points on the weekend. St. Cloud remains just a point behind Aberdeen but is now three ahead of Minot and five clear of Bismarck.
The Norsemen are back home this weekend Friday and Saturday, February 17th and 18th with the Minot Minotauros in town. Friday will be Charlie Boike Night; 50% of the money from tickets sold will go towards the Charlie Boike Scholarship Fund. Also on Friday 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.