When the St. Cloud Norsemen face the North Iowa Bulls on Saturday, it’ll be the first time in thirteen days that the Norsemen play an NAHL game. While some may argue it’s a bad break to have a whole weekend off so early in the campaign, as opposed to at a more halfway point or down the stretch, the St. Cloud coaching staff feels it may have come at just the right time.
When asked if having last weekend off was a good thing since they have had a number of players out due to injury lately, Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen didn’t mince words. “Yes it is, but we had the three (games) in three (days) so essentially it almost evens out,” points out Millen. “We certainly do need some time here; we’ve been unusually banged up so we gotta hope we can get some guys back and healthy and moving in the right direction.”
While it’s still too early to know exactly who will be available for this weekend’s game, Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz seems optimistic. “Every day kids get closer and closer to that recovery point,” Kautz explains. “You never know until that game day and I think that’s the biggest thing is each day we’re getting healthier, but you never know until the game officially starts what you’ve got.”
The Norsemen are hoping they can be playing with all hands on deck Saturday because North Iowa has gotten off to a good start on the young season. They’re 8-4 with a +10 goal differential and they’ve been particularly stingy defensively as they’ve surrendered just 26 goals in 12 games, for an average of 2.17 goals against per game.
Assistant Coach Kautz admits the Bulls have been impressive so far, but feels that how the game turns out is more in St. Cloud’s hands. “They work hard, they are on top of our division so they’ve done a lot of good things,” admits Kautz. They’ve got good special teams, they play the right way, so we’ve just got to go in and try to play a full sixty minutes and just go from there.”
When asked what has made the Bulls so successful so far in the season, Millen gets right to the fact that they’ve got a lot of returning talent in their lineup. “They look like they have a lot of familiar faces and some good players,” compliments Millen. “Obviously they’re having a real good start to the season, they’re in first place. It’s gonna be a really good test for us.”
Among those familiar faces Coach Millen is alluding to is Philadelphia, PA native Byron Hartley (8-6-14) but their top four leading scorers all played for the Bulls last season, including Justin Mexico (5-7-12), Logan Dombrowsky (1-10-11) and Max Scott (5-3-8), all forwards. At the other end of the ice, while goaltender Erik Chaffe didn’t play for the Bulls last season, he did play for their NA3HL program the Mason City Toros, so he’s familiar with the rink, the coaching staff and the organization. Chaffe’s leading his squad in almost all goaltending categories including record (4-1-0), goals against average (1.82), save percentage (.935%), and shutouts (2).
The Norsemen are also being led by returners on the scoresheet. Kade Peterson’s 12 points (7-5-12) paces the Norsemen and four of their five top scorers in Peterson, Blake Perbix (1-7-8), Nike Hong (3-3-6), and Duke Kiffin (0-6-6) all played for the team last year. And while Daniels Murnieks (2-4-6) is in his first season in St. Cloud, the Rigta, Latvia native is no stranger to high level junior hockey as he spent last season in the USHL with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
A key to picking up a win on the road Saturday may be getting the opening goal of the game. While the Bulls are 6-0 when scoring first, they’re just 2-4 when they give up the opening tally. Coach Millen acknowledges that while scoring first hasn’t been as common of an occurrence as he’d like, it may be a big determining factor in the outcome Saturday. “Our start’s going to be important and we’ve got to get better there,” says Millen.
That start begins with the puck drop at 7:10 pm on Saturday in Mason City and the St. Cloud Norsemen at the North Iowa Bulls game can be seen on your home for all NAHL contests, hockeytv.com.
The next time you can watch your Norsemen at home is Saturday, October 29th, in the back half of a home-and-home with the Minnesota Wilderness. You can get your tickets today online at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.