ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The good news for the St. Cloud Norsemen was last weekend's games against the USA National Team Development Program Under-18 team was that they were exhibition games and the team played better on the second night.
Team USA beat the Norsemen 13-2 and 5-3 on Oct. 2-3 at Municipal Athletic Complex.
"We were probably a little bit deer-in-the-headlights (look) that first game," Norsmen head coach Corey Millen said. "They are really good, highly skilled and play at a high pace. The score reflected a little bit of that.
"The second night, we were a little bitter in a lot of different areas. We took some time and space away from those guys and played a little harder."
St. Cloud opens its NAHL regular season this weekend with a road series against Aberdeen, the defending Central Division champions. The teams will play at 7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Odde Ice Center in Aberdeen, S.D.
The Wings were 34-11-4-2 last season, while St. Cloud finished last in the division with a 10-37-4-1 record.
But there is a new nickname (the team was the Blizzard in previous seasons), several new players and Millen is the team's new head coach. He replaced Moe Mantha, who retired after last season.
"I think things are going pretty well," said Millen, a former University of Minnesota and NHL forward. "We've got a few guys who are a little banged up, so we have a few challenges with health."
St. Cloud is carrying 30 players on their roster going into the opener and the team must trim that number to 27 by Nov. 15, so Millen and assistant coach Casey Mignone are continuing to assess the roster. Millen said that all 30 players on the roster got to play against Team USA.
"We have a lot of new junior faces, lots of kids who haven't played junior hockey," Millen said. "But there's a pretty good skill level and some talent there, but it's going to take some time for those first-year players to get their feet wet. There's good there and there's still going to be some adjustment time."
While there are the typical adjustments going on for the younger Norsemen players to the level, there's the added change this season of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.
"That's a challenge and we're leaning on the guys to be pretty boring right now, get to the rink and then maybe get to the guy and then stay home," Millen said. "We want to continue playing and it's going to be a big challenge and we're urging them to follow all the protocols.
"We're trying to limit the time in the rink, spread them out in the locker room and masks are being worn whenever indoors whenever you're not on the ice or in the showers. They're washing everything every day (in the locker rooms)."
St. Cloud have another road series Oct. 23-24 when they play at Minot. The Norsemen have their regular season home opener at 7:10 p.m. Oct. 30 against Bismarck at the MAC. Games at the MAC have an attendance limit of 250.