MASON CITY, Iowa – In one of the biggest weeks of his life, Austin Jackson (Waterloo, Iowa/Minnesota Magicians) came up the biggest for the North Iowa Bulls against Wisconsin on Saturday night…unless you count the team's record-breaking goaltender. Jackson wrapped up the Bulls' 10-0 rout of the Whalers with a hat trick, but it was Tommi Ahlgren (Tampere, Finland/North Iowa Bulls) landing in the NA3HL record books with his seventh shutout after making 32 saves. Jackson, meanwhile, had announced his commitment to Wisconsin-Stout earlier in the week, and was playing in front of Blue Devils head coach Terry Watkins.
"That was a pretty good representation, with his future coach here to watch him play," said Bulls head coach Todd Sanden. "It was a great team effort, and I really feel like a lot of guys were involved in this game tonight."
The scoring got started early, with Jackson's opening goal, just 3:53 into the game. Jackson blocked a Whalers shot from above the left faceoff circle, sending it down the ice where the forward was able to push a rebound past starting goaltender Ian Dvorak. Owen Larson (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) got the powerplay party started at 10:49 of the period, one of four North Iowa powerplay goals in the contest.
"I thought coming out of the gate tonight we were really fast," said Sanden. "Our passing was tight, our execution was there and we were pretty darn good on the power play tonight. You get into postseason play and your special teams are going to be a catalyst for success."
The scoring picked up in the second period, starting with Brett Gravelle's (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) 50th goal of the season, following a backdoor feed from Jackson to Dvorak's left. The wrister beat the Whalers netminder low along the ice just 1:34 into the period. Six minutes later, a pass from Gravelle found Joe Burgmeier (Mason City, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) in the slot, who zipped a wrister high past Dvorak to build the lead to 4-0. Max McConnell's night in net would begin at the 9:45 mark of the period following Connor Bump's (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) second goal in three games – following a pass from Gravelle up the left-wing wall back to the blue line, Bump walked uncontested to the left faceoff dot and ripped one in top-shelf to chase Dvorak from the net. After five minutes of scoreless hockey, McConnell would fall victim to Jackson, as he threaded the puck through traffic on a shot from near the top of the faceoff circles for his second goal of the game.
The hats made their way onto the ice under three minutes into the third period, as Jackson walked back into the middle of the slot and sniped one in over McConnell's shoulder following passes from Ryan Durant (Waupun, Wisc./North Iowa Bulls) and Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./Everett Silvertips). Larson would get back on the board as well, capping his first multi-goal game as a Bull following passes in front from Burgmeier and Jack Stang (Mendota Heights, Minn./North Iowa Bulls). His second goal would be tucked just inside the crossbar at 6:37 of the period. Tommy Stang's (Mendota Heights, Minn./St. Thomas Academy) physicality set him up for a goal at 9:56 of the period, following a check on Alec Artuso at center ice that began a 2-on-2 rush into the Whalers' end. Quinn Fuchs's (Minot, N.D./Minot Minotauros) initial shot wound up out of the net, but the rebound was left waiting on the doorstep for Stang, who came ahead and finished off the play. A leave-off pass from Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./Academy of Holy Angels) set Gravelle up for his second tally with 4:08 to go, as Gravelle walked the puck in from the right point and slipped a wrist shot through from just inside the right faceoff circle for his 51st goal of the year and the Bulls' final tally of the night.
"Our guys were really quick on the kill," said Sanden. "We got into the shooting lanes and they only had two or three quality looks on their man-advantage. With Tommi Ahlgren [in net] he was as solid as ever in there tonight. Looking at how fast our guys played, that eliminated a lot of opportunities for Wisconsin."
Seven NA3HL goaltenders (including former Bull Chris Amsden two years ago, North Iowa teammate David Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) last season and Whalers goalie McConnell this year) have finished a season with a half-dozen shutouts, but Ahlgren becomes the first 3HL backstop with seven shutouts in a season. As for the special teams, the North Iowa power play walked away with a 4-for-9 line on the night, while the Whalers were left with an 0-for-6 finish on the man-advantage. 1,011 fans saw the second-to-last Saturday night home game in Mason City for the season, sending the Bulls into their three-game home set against the Chicago Jr. Bulldogs next weekend. Both Friday and Saturday night's games are set for 7:30 p.m. faceoffs at the Madhouse in Mason City, while the Sunday game is set for a 5 p.m. start time.