The St. Cloud Norsemen go into the 2023 Robertson Cup playoffs on a bit of a downswing, as they finish the season 0-3-1-0 in their last four, missing an opportunity to clinch the #2 seed and get home ice advantage in the first round. They also had a chance to eliminate the Aberdeen Wings, the team they dropped those last four games to, and have to head back to Aberdeen, SD this weekend for Game 1 and Game 2. But let’s not miss the most important part of that opening sentence: they’re going into the 2023 Robertson Cup playoffs.
St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz isn’t happy with how the last two weekends of the regular season went for his squad, but he knows that his team did enough in the first 56 games of the regular season to punch their ticket. “That’s the beauty of playoffs, everyone’s 0-0 and, quite frankly, nothing matters in the first 60 games,” reasons Kautz. “Those games kinda show who you are but, let’s face it, playoff hockey at all levels is completely different. Honestly, we’re super excited to go back and play in Aberdeen after last weekend and we’re excited for the challenge. Playoff hockey is not supposed to be easy at all, so you’re gonna get tested, you’re gonna get hit with adversity, and I’m looking forward to seeing how our boys respond.”
There is a lot of turnover year-to-year in the world of junior hockey, and the NAHL is no exception. In fact, of the four teams that made it to Blaine, MN and the Robertson Cup Semifinals in 2022, St. Cloud is only one of two to make the postseason alongside the New Jersey Titans. The Anchorage Wolverines and the New Mexico Ice Wolves fell short of a playoff spot with each team finishing fifth in their respective division. Despite a tough opponent in Aberdeen and starting on the road, there are at least 13 NAHL teams who would change places with the Norsemen in a heartbeat as their seasons have already come to an end.
Kautz talks about what it means for this organization to make the playoffs two years in a row and not fall victim to the “Every Other Year Syndrome” so many junior hockey teams fall into, going all-in one year but then having the cupboards bare the next. “It says a lot. The hockey fans and the people following our team know we probably had more adversity than any other team in our league,” Kautz points out. “For us to overcome that and earn one of these spots is huge. Ya know, these spots weren’t given. We had to work our butts off throughout the year; a lot of peaks and valleys. That was all part of the process and we’re super excited that we were able to get a spot and earn our place in the Robertson Cup playoffs.”
Everyone knows that deep hockey playoff runs are often dictated by the hottest goalie taking their team to the along for the ride, and we need look no further than the NHL in the last decade or so to see that point proven. Amongst the last eleven Stanley Cups won, four teams have won multiple Cups in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings. What those teams all had in common was fantastic playoff goaltending with Andrei Vasilevskiy, Matt Murray/Marc-André Fleury, Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick hoisting eight of the last eleven Stanley Cups.
While there’s good goaltending around the league and specifically around the division, the Norsemen have more depth in between the pipes than anybody else in the NAHL. The other five teams in the division, even Bismarck and North Iowa who missed the playoffs, all have one goalie they leaned on heavily down the stretch and we expect to see Austin’s Trent Wiemken, Aberdeen’s Cole Moore and Minot’s Lawton Zacher as the unquestioned starter going into the playoffs.
The Norsemen deploy a three-headed monster in the crease in Tomáš Boľo, Ethan Dahlmeir and Wil Ingemann. Last season Boľo led the team in almost every statistical category for goalies including games played, wins, shutouts, save percentage, goals against average, minutes played and saves. Boľo also played every minute of the 11 playoff games that saw St. Cloud get to the Robertson Cup Semifinals against Anchorage. But Dahlmeir is another second year Norsemen goalie and has led the Norsemen in every one of those categories this season. And don’t forget about Will Ingemann, who missed a majority of the season due to playing for Wayzata High School, where he was the first goalie ever named the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year for the Trojans. Having three goaltenders gives the Norsemen more flexibility, more insurance were there to be an injury, and also makes it harder for other teams to prepare for and scheme against.
Kautz, who was the goalie that took St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen’s 2015 Minnesota Wilderness team to the promised land and the 2015 Robertson Cup Championship, knows the luxury of having options in net. “We have the three goalies on our roster because we all think that they’re more than capable of stealing games for us. It’s an exciting opportunity for that group of individuals, but the best part is that they’re good teammates about it,” explains Kautz. “I think that makes it way easier; when your teammate’s called upon and you’re backing up. To be a good teammate goes a long way, supporting that guy. If we didn’t have that, I think we wouldn’t be in this position. I’m excited for those guys to embrace the opportunity and challenge moving forward.”
The St. Cloud Norsemen will face the Aberdeen Wings in the playoffs for the second straight season and that series gets underway this Friday and Saturday night at 7:15 on hockeytv.com. The next home game will be Game 3 back at the MAC on Friday, April 28th, which will also be a 7:15 puck drop. Get your tickets online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.