ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Don’t tell the North Iowa Bulls and St. Cloud Norsemen there’s nothing to play for, with their spots in the North American Hockey League Central Division standings already secured.
For the Norsemen, Saturday’s matchup at the Municipal Athletic Complex was a chance to carry some momentum into the Robertson Cup playoffs after winning the division championship this year. For North Iowa, it was a chance to throw a stumbling block in front of one of the favorites to win this year’s Robertson Cup, as well as a chance for the team’s eight 2001-born players to make a final impression on college scouts before making their commitments during the offseason.
The Norsemen showed why they’ll be a tough out in the postseason, scoring three goals in the second period and three more in the final 4:13 of the game and picking up a 7-0 win to close out the regular season for both teams.
An 5-on-3 power play gave St. Cloud it’s first opening, and it was all the Norsemen were able to take advantage of in the opening 20 minutes. With Jack Phelan and Max Scott caught in the penalty box, Ryan O’Neill found Blake Perbix in the bottom of the left-wing faceoff circle, and his snap found the top corner of the net for a 1-0 lead just 4:33 into the contest.
The Norsemen would not score on the 5-on-5 until 2:48 of the second period, when Kade Peterson’s shot from the left-wing faceoff dot bounded out front for Jackson Hughes, who lunged to put away the second chance and give St. Cloud a 2-0 advantage.
Peterson picked up another assist on Perbix’s second goal of the night, scoring from mid-slot off of a corner pass from Max Strand at 8:42 of the second period. Just a minute-and-a-half later, Blake Mesenburg double-clutched his way through the right-wing circle before hitting his target in the top half of the net to make it 4-0 just past the game’s halfway mark.
The Norsemen laid in wait until the final minutes, and then put the exclamation mark and the postscript on the season’s final game. At the 15:47 mark of the third, Peyton Hanson broke into the North Iowa zone on the left side of the ice, weaving over to the right half before letting fly a fadeaway chance that hit the back of the net for a 5-0 lead.
St. Cloud added two more in the final 1:02, when Hanson slid a pass across the front of the net from the left-wing corner, finding Hunter Hanson on the back post for a tap-in and a 6-0 lead. O’Neill got the final word of the game, sending a pass to Hughes at the edge of the slot to snap home one more one-timer with 26 seconds remaining.
Perbix and Hughes finished the night with two goals apiece, while Peyton Hanson closed his night with a goal and an assist. In all, eight St. Cloud players finished their regular-seasons with multi-point nights, with O’Neill’s three assists putting him over the top for the NAHL scoring title with 80 points on the season.
Hunter Garvey made 45 saves, tying his second-highest mark of the season, in the loss for North Iowa. Tomas Bolo made 30 saves for his fifth shutout of the season and sixth win of the year against the Bulls. He finishes his season with 29 saves, just one shy of St. Cloud’s decade-old franchise record.
North Iowa wraps up the season at 22-28-4-6, while the Norsemen set a new franchise mark with their 41st win of the year ahead of a first-round playoff matchup against either the Bismarck Bobcats or the Minot Minotauros. Bismarck’s 2-1 win Saturday puts them into a winner-take-all game Monday evening at the Maysa Arena in Minot to decide the Central Division’s fourth and final playoff spot.
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North Iowa 0 0 0 – 0
St. Cloud 1 3 3 – 7
1st Period-1, St. Cloud, Perbix 23 (O’Neill, Murr), 4:33 (PP). Penalties-Phelan Nio (cross checking-minor), 3:26; Scott Nio (hooking-minor), 4:02; Vlasich Nio (cross checking-minor), 12:09; Lajoie Stn (roughing-minor), 12:09.
2nd Period-2, St. Cloud, Hughes 4 (Peterson, Gruba), 2:48. 3, St. Cloud, Perbix 24 (Peterson, Strand), 8:42. 4, St. Cloud, Mesenburg 27 (Murr), 10:15. Penalties-Mesic Nio (roughing-minor), 5:02; Hong Stn (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 5:02; Young Stn (holding-minor), 11:59.
3rd Period-5, St. Cloud, Hanson 9 (McCormack, Gruba), 15:47. 6, St. Cloud, Hanson 7 (O’Neill, Hanson), 18:58. 7, St. Cloud, Hughes 5 (O’Neill, McCormack), 19:34. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 10-10-10-30. St. Cloud 18-18-16-52.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 1; St. Cloud 1 / 2.
Goalies-North Iowa, Garvey 15-18-2-5 (52 shots-45 saves). St. Cloud, Bolo 29-7-1-0 (30 shots-30 saves).
Linesmen-Jeremy Briscoe, J. Morrison.