MASON CITY, Iowa – After four straight lopsided wins on the home season, North Iowa needed a big second-period comeback and more than 60 minutes Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home and unbeaten in Central Division play with a 6-5 win over the Wisconsin Whalers. The Bulls set themselves up for Saturday’s key showdown with an 8-0 rout of the Whalers Friday night that included goals from eight different players, including Jason Miner‘s (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) first in a North Iowa uniform, and three assists each from Steven Mordini (Baraboo, Wis./Team Wisconsin) and Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.).
Saturday night’s game didn’t get off to such a stellar start – Ben Ratner notched the opening goal of the game at the 8:01 mark of the period, and less than six minutes later, goals from Carter Grobstick and Jake Faulkner had put the Bulls in a 3-0 hole.
After the first trip to the locker room, the home team decided they’d had enough – within the first 3:16 out of the break, Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) and Sean Mallonee had broken through for goals, and Miner’s second goal as a Bull at 12:05 erased what was left of the Wisconsin lead. Wisconsin took the momentum right back after Mordini’s minor for boarding with 4:03 to go in the period gave them the special-teams opportunity they needed. Ratner notched his second goal of the game with 3:18 showing on the clock, but the lead would be short-lived – Barnes put the Bulls back on the board for a tying goal just 18 seconds later, taking the game to the third period with a 4-all tie.
Owen Larson (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) put on the afternburners twice in the latter stages of the game, with his first goal of the night coming just 13 seconds into the third period for a 5-4 lead. That lead looked like it would hold until Ratner finished the hat trick with 17 seconds left and an extra attacker on the ice. The 3-on-3 overtime session was, as usual, a back-and-forth affair until a lucky bounce over two Wisconsin sticks found Larson, and the second-year Bull raced the puck to the Whalers’ net at 3:08 for his second goal, and the game-winner.
Josh Benson (Stillwater, Minn./Brookings Blizzard) notched his second win as a North Iowa goaltender, stopping 30 of the 35 shots that he faced in the game, including 24 of the final 26. Sato finished the night without a goal for the first time this season, but extended his league-best points streak to nine games (including his final two at last year’s Silver Cup tournament). The Bulls will play La Crosse next weekend in the first of their seven weekend home-and-home sets for this season. Friday night’s game is in La Crosse, Wis., with the Bulls and Freeze returning to Mason City for Saturday’s game.