St. Cloud, MN – The Minotauros swept the St. Cloud Blizzard handily this weekend setting a new franchise record on Friday followed by a less dramatic but more dominating shutout on Saturday. The weekend sweep send the Tauros into a bye week on a positive note and also gets the six players headed to the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament feeling good.
On Friday night the Tauros the Tauros took control early and never really let go the rest of the weekend. Cade Stibbe scored his 11th of the season just seconds into a Tauro power play and 5:05 into the game. Minutes later Stibbe set up Ville Immonen for his 11th of the season on the rush to double the Tauro lead. At 10:26 of the period Dan Russell scored for the fifth game in a row to make it 3-0 and then Braeden Bartoo added a shorthanded goal set up by Jack Westlund to make it 4-0 after the first.
Stibbe then got his second of the night early in the second to extend the lead to 5-0. St. Cloud would finally get the Blizzard on the board capitalizing on a turnover leading to a breakaway for Colin West. Late in the period the game opened up a bit with the teams trading chances and goals back and forth. Tauros’ defensemen Sam Skinner and Owen Baumgartner scored on either side of Bud Winter’s goal for St. Cloud to make it 7-2 heading into the third.
The Tauros continued to pour it on in the third with Russell getting his second of the night before Stibbe completed the 14th hat trick in Tauro history. Of the hat trick Stibbe said it, “felt good, I got great passes from my linemate Ville [Immonen].” He added that coming into the weekend, “my confidence had been a little bit down, I feel like I have it back.” St. Cloud would get one more but then Kyler Kleven picked up his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season to close out the game pushing the final to 11-3. The eight goal margin of victory was the largest in Tauro history, passing the previous record of seven which the Tauros had hit multiple times most recently on November 30th when the Tauros beat St. Cloud 11-4. The 11 goal output also tied the franchise record for most goals in a game.
Saturday night the Tauros took a little longer to get rolling. Russell scored for the sixth game in a row on the power play from Kleven and Skinner on the power play. For Russell it was his 18th on the year and sixth game in a row with a goal, he has seven goals and four assists in that time. Then in the second, after getting three assists the night before Jay Buchholz scored a goal of his own banging home a rebound from the door step to give the Tauros a 2-0 lead. Having allowed just 10 shots on goal to the Blizzard going into the final period the Tauros rallied around goaltender A.J. Ruskowski to help him finish off the Tauros first shutout of the season. Despite having to kill a long five-on-three that was part of a five-minute major on Nikolai Charchenko the Tauros allowed just 2 more shots on goal in the third while scoring three more goals, two by Cole O’Connell and one by Wilhelm Wassberg. Ruskowski was quick to credit the guys in front of him for the shutout, “it felt good, the guys played really well and were blocking a lot of shots. That’s probably the fewest shots we allowed all season.” 12 total shots on goal is in fact the fewest allowed by the Tauros to this point in the season, the previous low was the night before when the Tauros allowed just 20.
For Ruskowski the shutout came in his first real action in almost a month; he had played 3:12 the night before while starter Ben Garrity had to leave the ice for an equipment repair. Ruskowski has adjust well to the backup role, a role that he is in for the first time in his career, “it’s my first year backing up, I try to take advantage of the opportunities I do get and push Benny every day in practice.” He added that “Benny is a good goalie to look up to.”
Next up for the Tauros is a week off, except for the six Tauros headed to Top Prospects. Buchholz and O’Connell will play on the Central Division All-Star Team; while Kleven, Russell, Skinner, and Baumgartner will play for the NAHL Blue Selects Team. Then after a weekend off the Tauros will host the Aberdeen Wings on Friday, February 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets for both games are still available through the “Tickets” tab atop this page.