The St. Cloud Norsemen for the second season in a row will face the Aberdeen Wings in the playoffs, this time in Round 1. Games 1 and 2 will be this weekend in Aberdeen, SD, and if there were a betting line on the series, the oddsmakers would likely make the Wings the favorite. While Aberdeen did finish as the #2 seed and St. Cloud the #3 seed, the Wings had just one more point than the Norsemen on the year. But Aberdeen is riding a four-game winning streak, all against the Norsemen, and St. Cloud went 0-6-1-1 against the Wings on the season.
Last season the Norsemen dropped Game 1 at home to Aberdeen 5-4 in overtime but then rattled off three straight wins, 6-2 in St. Cloud, 3-2 in triple overtime on the road and then 3-2 in regulation to close out the series in Aberdeen. This year though, the scenario is vastly different, and many would consider the Wings heavy favorites, particularly for a #2 vs #3 seed matchup. But Norseman forward Kade Peterson doesn’t mind the role that St. Cloud finds themselves in.
“I think some of that is good; having the underdog mentality. But I think that anybody who’s been watching the games and been there at the games can tell you that we’ve been in a position to win a majority of them,” points out Peterson. “I don’t think any of us feel that they’re a better team than us, we just haven’t gotten over that hump. We should expect to beat them.”
Despite the two teams facing off against one another in the postseason for the second season in a row, there’s a lot of change since last year’s playoffs, and it begins with the Aberdeen’s bench boss. Scott Langer first served as an NAHL head coach for the Sante Fe Roadrunners in 2004-05 and stayed with the Roadrunners organization through their relocation to Topeka,KS. After 12 seasons with the Roadrunners he became the head coach and general manager of the Aberdeen Wings in 2016-17 and stayed with them for five seasons before taking over for the Fargo Force in the USHL for a season last year.
Langer holds the record for most wins as an NAHL head coach, but St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen downplays Langer’s return to Aberdeen this season as the biggest storyline in the postseason rematch between these two organizations. “I don’t know that that is going to be the biggest element that is gonna be different. It’s the first round versus the second round, it’s gonna be new teams, they’re different teams so every year’s a new year,” Millen explains. “But let’s face it, the division is competitive, it’s been competitive, so I expect that to be the similarity.”
St. Cloud has nine players on their current roster that dressed in the series against Aberdeen last year, while on the other side the Wings only have three that were featured in that playoff series. And of those three, Owen Dubois certainly brings the most playoff success against the Norsemen to the rematch as Devon Carlstrom and Patrick O’Connell were held off the scoresheet while Dubois put up 2-3-5 in those four games against the Norsemen last year.
While Millen expects Dubois, an alternate captain last season and one of their two captains this year, to be a leader, he’s less concerned with what the Air Force Academy commit is bringing to the ice and more focused on what his team can do. “I’m sure he’s gonna be yeah,” answers Millen, when asked if Aberdeen will lean on Dubois’ postseason success and experience. “He’s one of their leaders and he’s certainly gonna be a guy that they probably have high expectations for. I think the thing that we are concerned about is what we do and how we approach things.”
Peterson knows that it’s going to be a tough task for St. Cloud to knock off Aberdeen but recalls that despite being on a team that went 41-16-2-1 last season, the Norsemen had their hands full with the Wings in the NAHL Central Division Championship Round. “Obviously last year, I think we beat them in four games but it was no easy task,” Peterson admits. “We split one-and-one when they came here and then the first game down there we went into triple overtime. It’s nothing easy and we know that going down there they play hard, they get pucks deep, they make you earn it. It’s gonna be a tough task but the guys are up to it this weekend.”
St. Cloud expects to see a heavy dose of Bowling Green commit Cole Moore, who lead the Wings in almost every goaltending statistical category this season. But obviously the Norsemen have three different options in Tomáš Boľo, Ethan Dahlmeir and Will Ingemann, and are expected to keep their goaltending choice close to the vest. Boľo and Dahlmeir have NAHL experience from last season and Boľo played the entirety of the St. Cloud playoff run last year that got the Norsemen to the Robertson Cup Championship in Blaine, MN.
Despite the experience that Millen can lean on, the choice of who to start for St. Cloud won’t necessarily be dictated by who has been on that stage before. “Experience is always nice, but the one thing that’s most important is that they’re mentally in a good space and prepared for the moment. Let’s face it, it’s an important moment, and I don’t think it’s any secret that a team has a hard time winning without good, solid goaltending,” reasons Millen. “We obviously think all three guys are capable of performing and playing well. We’re putting our heads together and kinda just doing some thinking about the guy that we think is gonna give us the best opportunity to win a hockey game, so that’s kinda where we’re at.”
The series is a best-of-five so the first team with three wins will advance to the second round and take on the winner of the Austin-Minot series. Game 1 will see the puck drop Friday at 7:15 with Game 2 taking place Saturday at the same time. Erick Zamora will have the call of each game online at hockeytv.com.
The Norsemen return to St. Cloud and the MAC for Game 3 at 7;15 on Friday, April 28th. You can get your tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.