The St. Cloud Norsemen could not have hand selected the results to go any better than they did in the NAHL Central Division this past weekend. St. Cloud not only got a sweep with a 4-2 victory Thursday at home and a 4-3 shootout win on the road in Austin Saturday, but the other four games were the best possible results for the Norsemen in trying to lock down the #2 seed and home ice in the first round of the Robertson Cup Playoffs. Bismarck swept North Iowa at home 4-1 on Friday, 4-2 on Saturday and Minot took care of Aberdeen on the road 5-1 Friday and 2-1 in regulation Saturday. The results of the weekend saw St. Cloud leapfrog North Iowa and go from a point behind the Bulls to three points ahead and saw their lead over Aberdeen balloon from two points to six points as the Wings find themselves now in a tie with Minot for the fourth and final playoff spot. The only “blemish” on their record was giving Austin a point in the shootout loss but the Bruins can’t be caught in the standings and all the other four games ended the way St. Cloud was hoping for, in regulation.
While the Norsemen coaching staff know that the weekend was great for them, they’ve got their focus on the next game and the next opponent. “It was perfect in the sense that we got four points and put a little bit of a gap between us and North Iowa, but we understand that there’s still a lot of points available and there’s no ‘x’ by our name, so our job is nowhere close to being finished,” points out St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz. (An ‘x’ next to a team’s name in the NAHL standings indicates that they have clinched a playoff spot, while a ‘y’ identifies a team that has clinched their division.) “We feel that we’re in control of the outcome in the sense that if we take care of our own business, then I think we’ll like where we end up. As opposed to being in a different position, relying on other teams. In that sense, it is good but there’s no sign of complacency and we have four tough games against an opponent that we haven’t beaten yet this year. We know that’s going to be a very difficult challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
The various clinching scenarios are complicated and multi-faceted but to break it down in it’s simplest form, St. Cloud is in the playoffs with a win, in any form, in any of their four remaining games, and that would also guarantee them at least third place in the Central. The Norsemen also would clinch a playoff spot Friday with a point, a Bismarck loss of any kind, and a Minot regulation loss or over the weekend with a Bismarck loss in either game this weekend and two Minot losses, as long as at least one is in regulation. St. Cloud can clinch the #2 seed by gaining two points on North Iowa over the weekend; so two wins to the Bulls’ one regulation win or less or one win if North Iowa receives no points.
While getting into the postseason is the most important milestone, Kautz doesn’t shy away from the fact that finishing as the #2 seed, the best anyone in the division can do now that Austin has the Central Division title locked up, is a goal of St. Cloud’s. “Yeah, obviously if you can play at home and be the #2 seed and have the ability to play three of the five at home, I think it makes a big difference, especially having less travel,” Kautz assesses. “That’s for sure our goal and after the weekend we just put ourselves in a better position than when the weekend started. So now we just need to continue to work, develop and continue to play good hockey. I think we still have some things to learn and clean up, which is always the fun part about the process, and we’re excited to finish out with these four games.”
If the Norsemen clinch a playoff spot they’re guaranteed a home game in the first round and if they finish as the #2 seed they’ll be guaranteed two home games, Games 1 and 2, and would host the deciding Game 5 in the best-of-five series, if it were needed. The first round of the playoffs would take place between Thursday, April 20th, and Monday, May 1st, and playoff dates and times will be announced as soon as they are confirmed.
The Norsemen will wrap up the home portion of the regular season this weekend with home games against the Aberdeen Wings on Friday and Saturday, April 7th and 8th. For tickets go to tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.