The St. Cloud Norsemen aren’t celebrating any accomplishments, as all they’ve done is jump out to a 2-0 first round series lead, and they’re certainly not resting on their laurels, but there’s a buzz at the MAC as the Norsemen prepare for Friday’s game hosting the Aberdeen Wings in Game 3 looking to close out a quick series.
That being said, NOBODY expects the next Norsemen victory to be easy, least of all St. Cloud Assistant Coach Brock Kautz. “Obviously they’re very well coached so you can expect them to be prepared and come with a desperate game. To end somebody’s season is definitely the hardest thing to do in sports across all levels, so we know that they’re gonna be ready to go and they’re gonna have their A-game. So if we don’t match that, it could be a very difficult test for us,” Kautz warns. “We’ve been in this mindset for, it seems like the last month and a half now. Every game at the end of the regular season was desperate in our sense and it was desperate for every team that we were playing because of how tight the standings were. We expect them to come into our building and give us a really, really hard test and we’re excited for another challenge.”
One of the biggest bright spots for the Norsemen all season has been their penalty kill, as they have the best penalty kill rate for regular and postseason combined of the 29 NAHL teams at 87.7% kill rate (229 successful kills on 261 opportunities). But Kautz is not only thrilled his team was perfect, going 5-for-5 on the PK and scoring a shorthanded goal last weekend, but also that their penalty kill wasn’t tested a ton because they stayed disciplined and out of the box for the most part. “That was the number one thing; maybe in the regular season we took a lot of penalties and one thing our focus was on was staying out of the box and not giving teams any sort of opportunity or trying to eliminate those opportunities when we can,” explains Kautz. “Obviously the penalty kill starts with the goalie and then works its way out to the four skaters that are on the ice. Everyone’s got a really good understanding of what we wanna do on the kill and when you’ve got everybody pulling in the same direction, it makes things easier. (We’re) Pleased with how that was and how it’s been all year but we know it’s gotta be a big factor for us moving forward.”
On the flipside, the power play has struggled as of late, and went 0-for-6 in the first two games of the playoffs. Sometimes in a small sample size, coaches can like their team’s man advantage unit even if the results aren’t there, but Kautz certainly feels it can and needs to be better. “We sit here and we watch some of the (NHL) playoffs and just watching Dallas and their ability to score goals on the power play, it makes a big difference. You gotta be really good on special teams. I think you could ask all the guys that were on the power play what they thought and they’d be the first to admit they didn’t accomplish what they wanted to accomplish,” Kautz reasons. “We’re gonna definitely look at the film and try to figure out what Aberdeen’s doing well to prevent us from getting good looks, but also just take a deeper dive on what we need to do internally to maybe generate a few more chances. We got a couple looks but no, it’s definitely gotta be something that we need to improve upon for sure”
Despite finishing as the #3 seed, the Norsemen had the worst goal differential in the NAHL Central Division at -21. Some may point to that number as a negative, but the fact they qualified for the playoffs with that statistic means they know how to close out games and find victories in tight affairs. In hockey there are simply wins and losses, and the margin of victory or defeat, especially in the playoffs, is inconsequential. We drew a parallel to the Norsemen and another team from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Minnesota Vikings, who in 2022 had a great record but a pedestrian point differential, and Kautz understood the comparison.
“Part of it is I know the Vikings had a couple really lopsided losses and I think we might have had a few of those as well so those definitely don’t help out the stats. It’s just understanding that the playoffs are a completely different animal and I think all the guys bought into that style and making sure when they step on the ice they have to do all the little things if they do want to win games,” analyzes Kautz. “We had guys sacrificing their bodies and blocking shots and doing a pretty good job of boxing guys out in front and making sure that our goalie can see every puck. (We’re) Very pleased with our ability to do that but also know that our job is nowhere near finished and we have to find a way to win one more game. We gotta make sure that we’re dialed in and we gotta play even better than we have.”
St. Cloud hosts Aberdeen this Friday and with a Norsemen win would end the Wings’ season. Also, the Norsemen will hand out long-sleeve Norsemen shirts (pictured below) printed from Rambow Inc. thanks to our Playoff Presenting Partners: Premier Real Estate Services, St. Cloud Subaru and H.R. Pesty’s. They’ll go to the first 100 adult fans with paid admission, and get there early as sizes are limited. In place of the shirts, the first 50 children with paid admission will receive a 2022-23 official NAHL St. Cloud Norsemen game puck. Get your tickets online for the 7:15 puck drop at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com. That’s also where you can find tickets if Aberdeen prevails Friday and forces Game 4, which would be Saturday night at 7:00 pm.