The St. Cloud Norsemen combined timely scoring, solid goaltending and excellent special teams to outshoot, out chance and ultimately outscore the Minot Minotauros over the weekend and came away with a sweep at the MAC.
The weekend didn’t get off to the start St. Cloud was looking for when Minot’s Chase LaPinta scored, slipping one past Norsemen goalie Tomáš Boľo’s blocker 8:03 into the game. But the Minotauro lead, their only lead of the weekend, would last just 70 seconds. Minot dumped the puck in and Boľo left it for defenseman Jake Hosszu, who passed it to fellow blueliner Broten Sabo behind the net just before making a change. Sabo bobbed and weaved down the ice and from the left circle fired a low shot to the far side that Minotauros netminder Noah Rupprecht kicked out with a left pad save but he was stuck sliding away from the rebound and Blake Perbix potted it into the yawning net to tie the game at one. The Norsemen had the better of the shots on goal in the frame with a 12-8 lead.
Early in the second period St. Cloud gained the lead just ten seconds into their second power play opportunity. Nik Hong won a faceoff back to Sabo and those two, Kade Peterson and Andrew Clark with some deft passing played a quick game of four corners in the offensive zone. Clark from the left point passed down low to the left side of the goal line to Hong and Hong found Sabo streaking into the slot. Sabo fired from one knee to give St. Cloud a 2-1 lead 4:49 into the second. The Norsemen would double their lead when Jeremiah Konkel collected a rebound on a save from Boľo and hit Perbix on the right wing boards with a pass. Perbix then centered to Elmeri Hällfors who skated in from the right side and from almost no angle fired a shot that snuck through when Rupprecht was unable to seal the goal post at 13:18. St. Cloud and Hällfors weren’t done in the frame as the Swede picked up his second goal in just his third NAHL game. Evan Pahos fed Hällfors behind their own net and from the corner Hällfors lifted the puck high out to center ice that Perbix skated onto. Perbix skated in and took a shot which Rupprecht blockered away but the rebound was skyed and just as it came back to the ice Hällfors one-timed it to balloon the lead to 4-1 at 16:28 of the second. Minot would breath some life into the game when Ben Johnson scored with 13.3 seconds left in the period to make it 4-2 going into the locker room.
The Minotauros would make a big push in the third outshooting the Norsemen 11-7 but the only shot that would slip by Boľo would be with a mere 63 seconds left in the game. Jack O’Hanisain scored a 6-on-4 power play goal for Minot with their goalie pulled to draw within one but that’s all the visitors could manage and St. Cloud prevailed with a 4-3 victory. The Norsemen went 1 for 3 on the man advantage and 4 for 5 on the penalty kill while outshooting the Minotauros for the game 32-26.
Saturday’s game was a much stronger start out of the gate for the home squad as St. Cloud scored just 52 seconds into the game. Pahos worked the puck deep for the Norsemen and then Hunter Hanson’s forechecking in the corner sprung a free puck for Peterson who’d just skated off the bench. Peterson cut from right to left in front of the goal and out waited Rupprecht who went down to cut off the angle but couldn’t seal the back post and Peterson deposited it into the net for his team-leading ninth goal of the year and 50th career NAHL regular season point. The Norsemen would find another tally in the period when Perbix scored his second in as many nights, this time on the power play. Duke Kiffin hit Daniels Murnieks in the right circle, Murnieks made a cross-seam pass to Perbix in the left circle and the Princeton, MN native buried it 14:21 into the game. St. Cloud outshot Minot 11-7 in the opening twenty minutes and went to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.
The Minotauros picked up the first goal of the second period when an attempt to rim the puck around the boards took a bad bounce for the Norsemen and came close to the crease. St. Cloud goalie Ethan Dahlmeir would swat it away with his stick but it went straight to LaPinta who wasted no time firing into a two-player screen that resulted in a Minot goal at 10:26 of the second. The Norsemen would answer a few minutes later however, with Hong making a handoff to Sabo at the left half wall and Sabo found an unaccounted Peterson in the slot. Peterson dropped to one knee to one-time the pass home at the 12:49 mark. Just before the period ended St. Cloud would again convert on a power play chance when Clarke hit Sabo at the top of the umbrella power play. Sabo’s shot was going on target but Hong deflected it instead out front to himself and with the goaltender lined up for Sabo’s shot Hong was able to forehand it into a gaping net with 22.3 seconds remaining in the period. That goal seemed knocked the wind out of the sails of Minot heading into the third.
The three-goal deficit was too much for the Minotauros to overcome as they did manage to outshoot the Norsemen in the final frame but only by a 5-4 margin. The icing on the cake for St. Cloud was an empty netter as Sabo stopped a Minot shot from the right point from getting through and that popped right out to Konkel who fired a shot that was true from in between his own defensive circles to seal the win 17:49 into the third.
The wins improved St. Cloud’s record to 11-12-2 and pushed them ahead of Bismarck in the Central Division standings. They now trail North Iowa and Minot by four points but have one and two games in hand on those opponents respectively. The Norsemen finished the weekend 3 for 8 on the power play and 7 for 8 on the penalty kill.
Speaking of North Iowa, the Norsemen have their sights set on North Iowa as they’ll play them three times this weekend before taking off for the holiday break. St. Cloud controls its own destiny to head into break in a playoff spot as they can leapfrog North Iowa in the standings after this series. Thursday’s game is in Mason City and can be seen on www.hockeytv.com. The series then turns back to St. Cloud for home games Friday and Saturday. For tickets head to tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.