The St. Cloud Norsemen have a vital three game series with the North Iowa Bulls this weekend with a ton of Central Division standings implications on the line. St. Cloud currently sits in 3rd place with 50 points in 46 games, just a point behind the Aberdeen Wings. But all three teams below the Norsemen are close in the rearview mirror with the Minot Minotauros two back with 48 points, the North Iowa Bulls three back at 47 points and the last place Bismarck Bobcats are just four back of St. Cloud with 46 points. In other action in the Central Division this weekend Aberdeen hosts Minot while Austin travels to Bismarck.
North Iowa may be sitting outside of a playoff spot currently, but they’re a dangerous team right now. They’ve gone 5-2-1 since last battling the Norsemen to end the month of January and have won four of their last five games. When St. Cloud Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz is asked why they’re having success, it’s a pretty simple answer for him. “I’ll say for sure they’ve been getting good goaltending, (Mitch) Day’s been playing really well. I know that if you ask their coach, they probably wanna clean some things up from last weekend just because they gave up way more shots than I’m sure they would have liked,” theorizes Kautz. “But for their goalie to see, I think it was over 80 shots, and have the success he did, it’s a testament to him. They’re scoring goals and getting good goaltending so if you have that, you’re gonna be successful.” Day faced 85 shots in last weekend’s sweep in Aberdeen, stopping 80 of them.
North Iowa’s experience is leading the way as Logan Dombrowsky (10-26-36), Byron Hartley (17-17-34), Max Scott (16-16-32) and Justin Mexico (9-28-27 in just 29 games played) are their top scorers and all played for the Bulls last season. Kautz realizes that while they don’t score goals at the same pace as some other teams, their 2.69 goals per game ranks 24th of the 29th NAHL clubs, they still have guys that will put the puck in the back of the net. “They have some kids that can make you pay so it’s making sure when they’re on the ice, you’re managing the puck the right way. But they can also spread out the scoring as well too,” Kautz notes.
Defensively, the Bulls have relied heavily on Mitch Day, who has been an absolute workhorse; he’s played in 31 of North Iowa’s 45 games. His numbers have been solid with a 2.65 goals against average, his .921 save percentage ranks 12th in the league and he has 3 shutouts in his 14 wins. “I was able to watch him out in Pittsburgh and I’ve seen him play a lot. He’s just a very talented kid, he’s very athletic, he’s got great movement so he puts himself in good positions to make saves and have success,” Kautz remarks on Day’s play. “He’s not a goalie that’s 6’6 (Day is 5’10, 180) but he moves well, he can be aggressive, he’ll stop the first shot and he’ll make the second save as well. He can be very tough to beat and he’s fun to watch for sure, so we just gotta try to create some havoc in front of him and make him uncomfortable.”
The Norsemen have had success against the Bulls, winning all five previous matchups in regulation, but they’ve been far from an easy opponent. “We know that with our record against them, that’s not, in my opinion, how those games have gone,” admits Kautz. “They’ve been close games and we’ve obviously been fortunate to get the wins that we have against them. They’ve all been great games, hard nosed hockey, and they’ll make you pay. They’ve been playing super well lately so we know it’s going to be a very, very tough task, especially after they got two wins on the road against a tough opponent. They’re playing some really good hockey and if we’re not really good it could be a long weekend so we’ve got to be ready to go.” The five games have all been close; three were a one goal victory with the other two being decided by just two.
Expect three more nail biters this weekend as the regulars season series wraps up between St. Cloud and North Iowa. The Norsemen are on the road Friday in Mason City, IA with the puck dropping at 7:10 and all the action can be watched on hockeytv.com. Then the series comes back to St. Cloud for a game Saturday night at 7:00 and the Sunday matinee at 3:00, which will be followed by a post game skate. Be sure to get tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.