The St. Cloud Norsemen came into Saturday’s contest vs. the North Iowa Bulls without having played a game in almost two weeks, but they looked anything but rusty as they dictated play, dominated time of possession and heavily outshot North Iowa en route to a 3-1 victory in Mason City that knocked the Bulls out of first place in the Central Division.
This was the first meeting between the two teams this season and there was a feeling out period between the squads early in the contest but that didn’t prevent St. Cloud from peppering the North Iowa goalie Mitchell Day with 14 shots in the period. Fourteen minutes into the period the Bulls failed to clear the defensive zone St. Cloud defenseman Duke Kiffin picked off the clearing attempt at the left point and made a pass to open space at the right point that Dylan Jensen skated into. Jensen cycled the puck deep and that allowed his linemate Alex Korpela to go to work forechecking below the goal line. Jensen helped out as he and Korpela battled 2 on 2 down low and Jensen came away with the puck and skated around the bend before finding Kiffin with a precise pass at the left point. Kiffin patiently skated up into the slot just outside of the left circle and picked his spot, rifling a shot up and over Day’s right shoulder and blocker to score at 14:12 into the frame, with Jensen and Korpela picking up the assists. Both teams failed to convert on a lone power play opportunity and St. Cloud doubled up the Bulls in shots on goal 14-7 for the period.
It took the Norsemen far less time in the second to find the scoresheet when again a North Iowa attempted clearance ended up in the back of their net. The Bulls banked a puck off the glass but St. Cloud defenseman Chase Cheslock caught it with his left glove and dropped it in between his skates. He then immediately took a low snap shot, just off ice level, through a sea of bodies, primarily on the North Iowa side. The seeing eye shot somehow found its way through everything in front and was perfectly tucked into the far corner, beating Day to his right. The unassisted goal was the first in Cheslock’s NAHL career and put the visitors up 2-0 just 2:50 into the second period. Once again both teams had one power play opportunity in the period but failed to convert and the Norsemen ended the period with the better of the shots on goal by a 15 to 9 margin.
Early in the third North Iowa would have life breathed back into them when they converted on their and final power play opportunity. Paavo Hiltunen was fed at the left point and he made a D-to-D pass to Logan Dombrowsky, a winger playing defense on the man advantage. From the right point Dombrowsky took a shot that was sailing wide of the net but was redirected perfectly by Max Scott, who tucked it just inside the left goal post, almost at the exact same spot that Cheslock had scored a period earlier, at 4:32 of the third period. The Norsemen would buckle down though surrendering no more power play chances and just 8 shots on goal for the entire third. With North Iowa’s goalie pulled and the Bulls took a sharp angle shot from the right corner that was blocked by Jordan Zelenak and sat on the goal line to the left of Norsemen goalie Ethan Dahlmeir. Kiernan Gately, in his first game in a Norsemen sweater, made a one-time backhanded pass to Kade Peterson at the top of the right circle. Peterson turned and found Blake Perbix on the opposite side of the ice and Perbix skated it out of the defensive zone, toe-dragged around one player and fired halfway between his blue line and the center line with the puck splitting the goal posts down the middle to make it 3-1 with the empty netter at the 18:41 mark. St. Cloud would hold on by that score outshooting North Iowa 10-8 for the period and 39-24 for the contest.
North Iowa came into the evening tied for first in the Central Division standings but fell behind the Austin Bruins at the hands of the regulation loss, dropping their record to 8-5-0. St. Cloud improves to 5-6-1 with the victory and has a home-and-home with the Minnesota Wilderness, a rare opportunity to take on an opponent outside of the Central Division.
The game on Friday in Cloquet can be seen online at hockeytv.com. The rematch will be the following night in St. Cloud with the puck drop at 7:00 pm and tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.