The St. Cloud Norsemen finished the regular season with a record of 28-23-4-5, good for 65 points and the #3 seed in the NAHL Central Division Playoffs. That’s a good record, not a great one, but it doesn’t really tell the story of the 2022-23 Norsemen, which is a tale of perseverance, determination and camaraderie.
The Norsemen were battling through injuries, particularly at the center position, at the end of the regular season and in the first round of the postseason, but they didn’t use that as any sort of excuse. Instead, they buckled down and put together arguably their best three-game stretch of the season; three regulation wins over the Aberdeen Wings 2-1, 2-0 and 3-0, including the first two on the road in South Dakota. Giving up just one goal in three games thanks to stellar play by goalie Ethan Dahlmeir and his teammates helping out in front of him has the Norsemen moving on to take on the Austin Bruins in Round 2.
Hockey playoffs sometimes find heroes from all places in the lineup and that was certainly the case for St. Cloud Friday in their series-clinching victory over Aberdeen. Lucca Munoz scored just his fourth NAHL goal and his second with the Norsemen, and it was the insurance goal that made the score 2-0 before St. Cloud would add an empty netter to seal the deal. The Norsemen are the fourth NAHL team that Munoz has played for and he talks about after having to make several relocations, what it feels like to have found a home in St. Cloud and for his goal Friday to help his team clinch a playoff series. “It feels great. I love the guys and I think we’re a tight-knit group,” Munoz explains. “I just feel like this is the tightest group I’ve been with and I think we can really take this season far.”
Carter Bradley’s goal Friday may have been even more impactful. It was the defenseman’s first NAHL goal in his 62nd game in the league and he talks about the relief of getting the monkey off his back in what turned out to be a game-winning goal in a series-clinching win. “That was huge. A lot of emotions, especially waiting all season for that,” admits Bradley. “To finally get it done in the playoffs and help the boys get the win, it’s just great.”
If you go back and watch the goal on hockeytv.com you’ll see just how much it meant not only to Bradley but also to his teammates, as they have been more excited than he was. For several moments after he returned to the bench, seemingly everyone came over to tap him on the helmet or playfully poke him in the chest. It even meant something to the coaching staff too.
“It’s obviously a great thing to see and it really fires the guys up too,” St. Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz says about guys like Munoz and Bradley scoring goals. “Obviously Bradley getting his first NA goal, I know he was fired up. You saw one of the guys go and grab the puck right away, understanding what the situation was and the meaning of it. And then Lucca, to be battling through some stuff lately, (and) working his butt off to get back in the lineup after getting hit in the face with some adversity, it’s awesome to see them get rewarded. Not just by scoring but by working hard every day and trusting the process and making sure they’re ready to go when their name’s called.” (Munoz had to miss some games due to illness down the stretch in the regular season but has been in the lineup for all three Norsemen playoff games and he and the team seem poised and ready to keep this ride going.)
The sign of a great hockey team come playoff time isn’t necessarily how talented they are, though this group has talent in spades. It’s how hard they work, the “next man up” mentality when players have to miss due to injury, illness or suspension, and how they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for their teammates and for the greater good of the organization. The way things have gone so far, don’t be surprised if this Norsemen squad has what it takes to will themselves back to Blaine, MN and the Robertson Cup for a second straight year, and even improve on their finish from last season.
The next leg of the journey begins this Friday and Saturday, May 5th and 6th, 7:05 each night for Games 1 and 2 at Riverside Arena in Austin, MN. If you can’t make the trek to see them in person, please tune in to hockeytv.com.
The Norsemen will host the Bruins on Friday, May 12th at 7:00 for Game 3 and the first 100 fans will receive a set of 2022-23 St. Cloud Norsemen Team Trading Cards courtesy of Rengel Printing. Tickets are available at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com. If needed, Game 4 will be Saturday, May 13th at 7:00, also at the MAC in St. Cloud. Game 5 would be back in Austin on Sunday, May 14th at 5:05 pm.