Despite being in a great spot in the NAHL Central Division the St. Cloud Norsemen still have a lot of work to do to clinch a playoff spot and hopefully home ice advantage in the first round. They find themselves alone in second place with 57 points, though both they and the Austin Bruins have all played one more game than the rest of the division. North Iowa and Aberdeen are tied with 55 points and Minot and Bismarck, thanks in part to both being swept in regulation last weekend, have 50 and 48 points respectively.
Starting on Saturday, March 25th, the Norsemen have three straight games against the Central leading Austin Bruins which is a stretch where the Bruins will be looking to clinch the division. Then April 7th through the 15th St. Cloud finishes the regular season with four straight games against the Aberdeen Wings, a team tied for third and fighting both for a postseason berth and seeding. However this weekend’s opponent, the Minot Minotauros, will be the most desperate team St. Cloud has remaining on their schedule and a squad that isn’t worried about their seeding; they’re in a spot where they’re just looking for a seat at the table.
Another team that’s in a predicament is the team St. Cloud just battled and swept, the Bismarck Bobcats. Despite having the second best goal differential in the Central Divisionm Bismarck is in last place, sitting 7 points back of North Iowa and Aberdeen who are tied for the last two playoff spots. Some Norsemen fans may find some schadenfreude in the Bobcats’ tough situation after some physical and chippy series between the two teams, but the Norsemen coaching staff consider Bismarck in the rearview mirror. “We’re not worried with any one particular team, we’re worried about our situation and our standing,” points out St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen. “Every team in our division is a good, quality team and is capable of playing well and beating any one of the other teams. We’re just trying to clean our own house and sort through what we’ve got to take care of and that’s all we care about.”
This past weekend went about as perfect for the Norsemen as it could have gone for making the postseason; not only did St. Cloud win both games in regulation but so did North Iowa over Minot, meaning the bottom two teams got no points both Friday and Saturday and the Norsemen gained as much ground as they could have on the teams on the outside looking in on the postseason. That being said, St. Cloud isn’t resting on their laurels and Coach Millen knows the weekend went well but there’s still so much to be done in their final nine regular season games. “Obviously the results were good but there’s nothing that’s set here in this division,” Millen warns. “Every game is still the same situation, very important, so we’ve got to approach it like that.”
Since mid-January the Norsemen have gone 12-3-3 and a big part of that success has been goaltending. Over those 18 games their goalies have surrendered just 38 goals, and while some NAHL teams may be relying heavily on one netminder, the Norsemen have a triple threat of Tomáš Boľo, Ethan Dahlmeir and Will Ingemann in the blue paint.
Millen admits it isn’t a typical approach, but when you’ve got three goalies as talented as the Norsemen goaltenders are, you’ve got to get all of them in the mix. “I don’t know that it’s ideal for anybody. The goalies, I don’t think they love it, but they’re three good goalies, three good kids,” compliments Millen. “The decision was made quite a while ago but when it’s all said and done all three guys know that we are gonna play the guy that we think gives us the best chance to win and that’s the way it is.”
The Norsemen may not have clinched anything, but there are about 20 NAHL teams that would love to swap the position that they’re in with St. Cloud. This Friday, March 17th and Saturday, March 18th, the puck drops at the Pepsi Rink at Maysa Arena at 7:35 both nights as the Norsemen battle the Minotauros in Minot and the action can be seen on hockeytv.com.
There are only three home games left for St. Cloud and their next game at the MAC will be on Thursday, March 30th, with the puck dropping at 7:00. Tickets can be purchased online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.