Minot, ND – The Minotauros host the first place St. Cloud Norsemen in a possible first round playoff preview as the Tauros look to lock up their Central Division best ninth consecutive playoff appearance. If everything breaks right over the next ten days the Tauros can still finish as high as second place in the Central Division; conversely the nightmare scenario could see the Tauros finish in last place in division. The good news is that the Tauros control their own destiny, win games and season keeps rolling, lose and it ends on April 16th.
This weekend the task is the regular season Central Division Champion St. Cloud Norsemen, who in theory at least, have little to play for outside of seeding at the Robertson Cup should they get there. If the Tauros miss the playoffs, the Norsemen will have played a big hand in that; the Tauros are just 2-8-0 against them this season. Five of those losses however came with now departed goaltenders in net. Zach Sandy is 2-2-0 against the Norsemen this season posting a .935 SV% against St. Cloud along with a 2.75 GAA. Lassi Lehti got no support in his one appearance against the Norsemen a 4-0 loss in which the big Finn stopped 46 of 50 shots while his teammates were shutout at the other end.
The schedule is also a factor that may favor the Tauros. The Tauros were off last weekend, their first weekend off of the season. The Norsemen meanwhile played four games in four different cities over five days from Wednesday to Sunday.
There’s no doubt that the numbers and history make the matchup a daunting one with the Tauros playoff hopes on the line. The Norsemen rank second in both shots for (35.39) and against (25.18) while the Tauros rank 22nd (29.98) and 23rd (34.39) in those categories respectfully. However, whether it is this weekend or in potentially later this month if the Tauros are to continue playing hockey they will need to find a way to solve the Norsemen.
Aside from team wins and playoff position several Tauros are playing to rewrite the Tauros record books. Sandy’s .929 SV% would be a new best for goalies with at least 15 games played; Austin Park (Air Force) is just behind him with a .927. Huston Karpman who already has the franchise record with 203 PIMs in a season can also set the single season point and assist marks with four of each; he currently has 34 assists and 51 points. With four assist he would tie Blake Lizotte with 38 and with four points he would tie Miroslav Mucha’s 55 point season in 2017-18. Lastly, while unlikely, with nine goals Colby Joseph could tie Mucha’s single season record of 30 goals.
Promotions: Saturday is a big day at the Maysa Arena. At 3:30 the Minot Police and Fire Departments will be playing their annual Guns and Hoses charity game to benefit Grant Lawson’s family. After the game the Minotauros Booster Club will be hosting a tailgate party in the parking lot until the Tauros game starts. Market Place Foods has donated 150 burgers and 150 brats to the tailgate to help raise funds for the Lawson family as well. Once the doors open for the Tauro game the Sports Shaq trading card giveaway will have 500 card strips with the top five vote getters for the Fan Favorite Award. After the game skate with the Tauros and bid on the jerseys of the departing Tauros; Connor McGrath, Huston Karpman, Nikolai Charchenko, Zack Simon, Jack Brown, Dean Schwenninger, Zach Sandy, and Lassi Lehti.
Playoff Scenarios: The Tauros, and every other Central Division team, have four games remaining in the regular season. As discussed above the Tauros face St. Cloud at home this weekend followed by a home-and-home set with the Bobcats that starts in Minot and finishes in Bismarck next weekend. The teams the Tauros are chasing, Aberdeen and Austin, face each other for all four games left on their schedules, first twice this weekend in Austin then next weekend in Aberdeen. The Two teams chasing the Tauros, Bismarck and North Iowa face each other this weekend, Bismarck then has the Tauros next weekend while North Iowa will battle St. Cloud.
2nd Place: For the Tauros to finish in second they need to win all four remaining games on their schedule as well as have Austin take three of four games from Aberdeen with all four games ending in regulation. That would create a three-way tie for second place with 67 points. The Tauros would have 32 wins while the Wings and Bruins would each have 31 giving the Tauros the tiebreaker. Austin would have the tie breaker over Aberdeen in that scenario so the Tauros would face the Bruins in the first round.
3rd Place: The Tauros could finish in third place with anywhere from one to four wins depending on what happens with the rest of the division. The most likely of these scenarios sees the Tauros win at least one remaining game but Aberdeen win enough games against Austin to allow the Tauros to pass the Bruins but not catch the Wings.
4th Place: The Tauros currently sit in fourth place and could stay there without any wins only if North Iowa sweeps Bismarck this weekend and then gets swept by St. Cloud next weekend. If that does not happen then the Tauros would stay in fourth if they fail to get at least two more points than Austin down the stretch.
5th or 6th Place: The Tauros need to either earn four points, have Bismarck and North Iowa miss four points, or some combination of the two. If the Tauros fail to earn four points on their own they could fall out of the playoff picture if either Bismarck or North Iowa get wins. With those two facing each other this weekend at least one will miss out on points, however if they were to split (especially if both games go to overtime) and then sweep their final weekends of the season the Tauros could fall behind both without a win over St. Cloud this weekend.