The St. Cloud Norsemen erased a two-goal deficit, scored four straight, and despite surrendering a goal in the final 20 seconds to make the score a little closer, held on for a 5-4 regulation victory over the Austin Bruins Friday in the home portion of a home-and-home series.
The first period certainly favored the visitors as they outshot the Norsemen 17-9 in the first twenty minutes and got the game’s opening goal. Just over nine minutes in St. Cloud had a great scoring chance hit the post and Austin countered in transition with a couple quick passes that set up Josh Giulani, who sniped a shot top shelf short side from the right circle to make it a 1-0 game at the 9:33 mark. Less than five minutes later the Norsemen would respond when Duke Kiffin won a 2-on-2 battle for the puck below his goal line and then Nik Hong wrapped the puck around the boards, springing Hunter Hanson. Hanson’s speed gave him a full step on the two Bruins defenders and he deposited a forehand shot from the inside of the right circle tying the game at 14:08. But Austin would score twice more in the period when James Goffredo kicked an attempted clearance to his forehand at the top of the right circle and slid it to Ocean Wallace who one-timed it high over the right shoulder of Tomáš Boľo at 17:30. Then Goffredo scored a goal of his own from the top of the power play umbrella through a sea of bodies and screens with 28.5 seconds left in the period to silence the crowd going into the first intermission.
The Norsemen would find their legs immediately in the second period and turn the tide. A Norsemen Rambow power play that carried over from the first period was converted when Nik Hong won an offensive zone faceoff thanks to his winger Jack Wandmacher jumping in and the two ended up handing off the puck for Tyler Dysart. Dysart wasted no time snapping a rising shot from in tight at the bottom of the left circle, shooting before Austin goalie Trent Wiemken knew who had the puck and the special teams goal got St. Cloud within one just 56 seconds into the stanza. The Norsemen would tie it when again they won an offensive zone draw from the left side, this time with Andrew Clarke pulling it to Blake Perbix who fed Kiffin at the left point. Kiffin slid the puck D-to-D to Ryan Thomas and Thomas’ shot was partially blocked but Clarke, crashing the net from the left circle, was able to shoot while falling and got enough on it to beat the goalie and tie the game 11:41 into the second. St. Cloud flexed their muscle in the middle frame, not only picking up the only two goals but outshooting Austin 15-6, setting up a winner-take-all third period.
Halfway through the third period great pressure by Kiffin and Clarke caused the Bruins to cough the puck up and make a tape-to-tape pass to the wrong team behind the goal line with Perbix wasting no time, notching a quick wraparound goal from the netminder’s right side to beat him five-hole at the 8:39 mark. The Norsemen would get an insurance goal when two and a half minutes later Kade Peterson and Clarke won a battle along the left side boards in their own zone and when the puck squirted out to neutral ice Clarke fought through some contact and raced up the left wing by himself while his teammates made a line change. The Bruins backchecked ferociously and eventually knocked Clarke to the ice, but from the seat of his pants he roofed a shot short side over the Wiemken’s right shoulder that popped the lid off the goalie’s water bottle atop the net and gave St. Cloud a 5-3 lead with just under nine minutes to play. The insurance goal ended up being huge as Austin scored an extra attacker goal when a bouncing puck from Boľo’s right looked like it would head on target but pinballed a couple times and went straight to Dylan Cook on the backside, who swept it into the cage with 19.4 seconds left. Austin got the puck deep in the closing seconds but Kiffin and Hong tied it up behind the goal line and the final play saw Austin’s pass attempt sail to an empty left point and the horn sounded with the Norsemen victorious 5-4. St. Cloud outshot Austin 10-4 in the final period and 34-28 for the game.
While pleased with the win, St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz knows there are definitely some things to clean up. “I think we struggled in the first period to find our legs and maybe our identity a little bit but after the first period, the next 40 minutes we started to play better,” reflects Kautz. With a grin on his face he tongue-in-cheek continues, “I guess it’s a coincidence when you start to play better you start to find some puck luck and get some goals. I think the biggest thing is finding a way to start a game on time and play 60 minutes in order to put yourself in a good position.”
Austin’s a team known for physical play and at times St. Cloud threw that style of play back at them. “You play the same team over and over, I think you start to understand the tendencies and what guys play a certain way. They play physical, they finish checks, they’re hard on the forecheck and that all ends in good terms for them. That’s why they’re on top of our division because they usually do that shift after shift, Kautz compliments. “They’ll force turnovers and force tough plays because they’re in your face and they’re hard. But we answered that a little bit and we had a couple guys finish some hits and close in and were able to maybe force a play that was tough to make and get rewarded.”
That tough Bruins team is again the opponent tonight as the Norsemen head down to Austin in the rematch. The puck drops at 7:05 pm from Riverside Arena and the game can be seen and heard on www.hockeytv.com.
The next home game for the Norsemen is back at the MAC next Friday, January 27th, vs. the North Iowa Bulls. Get your tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.