St. Cloud hosts Minot for a pair of games this weekend with the standings tight in the Central Division and with the Norsemen within striking distance of the Minotauros.
The Minotauros come in with a record of 10-7-1-1 but St. Cloud may be catching Minot at the right time; after winning 10 of their first 15 games, Minot has dropped four straight, all against Austin, to slip to third in the division. The only game these two teams have met prior to this weekend was the third straight game in three days on the road for St. Cloud when they fell at the Pepsi Rink at Maysa Arena in Minot by a score of 3-1 with a late empty netter. Down by a score of 2-0 at the 16:29 mark of the 3rd period it appeared that Evan Pahos had scored to cut the lead to one but a controversial call wiped the goal off the board and when Kade Peterson scored in the final minute of the game for the Norsemen it wasn’t enough to catch Minot.
Norsemen goalie Tomáš Boľo notes that in that game the Minotauros had a strong opening twenty minutes but from that point on he felt St. Cloud had the better of the play. “They started really well in the first period but then we kind of figured them out and I think we outplayed them in the next two periods,” evaluates Boľo. Minot outshot St. Cloud 19-11 in the first period but that category flipped in the Norsemen’s favor 25-14 in the last two frames.
St. Cloud defenseman Duke Kiffin knows that last time they were in a tough position with some injuries and playing their third game in three nights against a rested Minot team. “We only got a glimpse of them when we were all battered on the third game of the weekend but we thought we matched up well against them,” Kiffin explains. “We kind of got dominated in the first period but after that we figured it out and stuck with them and we kind of brought it to them, I thought. The game didn’t end up going in our favor but I think we can match up well against them.”
This season though, Minot has a way of dictating the game through the first period. They’ve given up just 10 first period goals in 19 games played, compared to giving up 16 in the second period and 24 in the third, with a +8 differential in the opening frame. Worse yet, they play incredibly well with a lead, going 9-2-1 in the 12 contests they scored first, so getting a strong start is going to be critical this weekend.
Luckily the Norsemen are coming in hot, having scored a season high seven goals Saturday in Bismarck and winning by their largest margin of victory on the campaign by five. To help figure out what went so well for St. Cloud we ask Hogan Sinjem, who had a four point evening on Saturday. “I thought our line was really using our legs well, moving the puck quickly, and we kinda went to work down low on their D. That’s how we opened up and created a lot of space for us to score,” assesses Sinjem. When asked about the style of game Minot plays, Sinjem answers “They’re a really physical team. They’re known for their physical play but I think we should be able to work against them with our legs and speed.”
Kiffin agrees that a speed game is the best way to counter the style the Minotauros bring to the ice. “We can use our speed; we’re starting to put together some forward lines that are meshing well and we think we can take advantage of some of their back end,” Kiffin points out. “We can use our legs and skate; their d men don’t seem to stick with us very well when we do that so that’s what we’re going to be looking for this weekend for sure.”
Minot is paced by American International College commit Hunter Longhi, whose 20 points (7-13-20 in 19 GP) are tied for 11th in the NAHL, and Nick O-Hanisain, whose 18 points (6-12-18 in 19 GP) are tied for second amongst defensmen. Consistency has helped the Minotauros, whose top five scorers and the only five who have reached double digits in points have all played in every one of 19 games for Minot. Their roster hasn’t had much turnover either as the only players who haven’t played all season in Minot are John Emmons, who came over from the USHL, and Blake Steenerson, who played in the Elite League. Meanwhile, goaltender Lawton Zacher, who’s headed to Brown University after his junior career, has been the model of consistency; in 11 starts he’s given up two goals or less nine times and only once surrendered four goals, the most he’s given up all season. Zacher is fifth in the league in goals against average with 1.80 and his .940 save percentage is second in the NAHL with a 8-2-1 record.
St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen knows that Zacher is going to stop most shots that he sees and the game plan is to take away his eyes. “He’s played well, I think he’s a pretty good sized kid (6’1, 172 lbs) so we’re gonna need to do some things to get to him, get some traffic in front of him and try to make things difficult for him,” explains Millen.
If the Norsemen can defeat the Minotauros both games this weekend in regulation they’d catch Minot in points and have a game in hand as well. Both games Friday and Saturday have 7:00 pm puck drops and tickets are available online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.