FRIDAY, MAR. 11 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATURDAY, MAR. 12 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SUNDAY, MAR. 13 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
CHICAGO JR. BULLDOGS (2-42-0, 4 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ NORTH IOWA BULLS (39-2-3, 81 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The first-place and last-place teams in the Central Division collide to wrap up the NA3HL regular season, in the Bulls' only home three-game weekend of the year.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 4-0-0 (in addition to three regular-season meetings this year, the teams met at the 2014 NA3HL Showcase in Blaine, Minn.).
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: North Iowa was prepared for a battle against the Wisconsin Whalers heading into last Saturday's game, with the Whalers still in the hunt for home-ice advantage in the first round of the NA3HL playoffs. The Bulls were far more than their visitors could handle, though, finishing with a 10-0 win – just days after committing to Wisconsin-Stout and with his future college coach in attendance, Austin Jackson racked up a hat trick, and Owen Larson and Brett Gravelle tallied a pair of goals apiece. For Gravelle, the two markers were his 50th and 51st of the season. Not to be outdone was goaltender Tommi Ahlgren, who finished with 32 saves and his seventh shutout of the year to break a longstanding NA3HL record. Of the Bulls' first six goals, four came on the power play on the way to a 4-for-9 line for the night on special teams.
THIS WEEKEND'S PROMOTIONS: This Saturday night's game is the long-anticipated Mighty Ducks Night, with special jerseys themed after those worn in the beloved 1992 Disney film. Those jerseys will be auctioned off following Saturday night's game, with all proceeds to benefit the North Iowa Youth Center. Fans can also enjoy a Postgame Skate with the Bulls following Saturday night's game.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at FASTHockey.com. All three games will also air live on NorthIowaBulls.com with free audio streams. Austin Draude will have the call Friday and Saturday night starting at 7:15 p.m., and Sunday afternoon at 4:45.
DOUBLE THE PLEASURE, DOUBLE THE FUN: North Iowa's offense has kicked into high gear as the seven-game homestand rolls on – the Bulls' offense has managed a double-digit output in each of its three straight home games, and will have a chance to double that mark this weekend with three games against the Jr. Bulldogs. In the team's three games earlier this year in Romeoville, the Bulls won by scores of 16-1, 8-1 and 8-0 on three consecutive days.
ALL I DO IS WIN: Former North Iowa forward Tommy Heinzman is still winning national titles after the conclusion of his career in the Barn. Heinzman assisted on ACHA Division I Lindenwood University's final goal of the 2015-16 season on Tuesday, with 13:23 remaining in the Lions' 2-1 win over the Iowa State Cyclones in the ACHA national title game. Todd Sanden's team was guaranteed to have an alumnus on the national championship roster, as former defenseman Kurt Halbach plays for ISU. Halbach played in 14 games this past season but did not dress for the Cyclones on the championship game.
IN THE (RECORD) BOOKS: Brett Gravelle could easily take over the league's single-season goals record this weekend, coming into the three-game stretch with 51 goals for the season in just 40 games. He needs five to take the record for himself, and scored five in the three road games in Romeoville earlier in the season. Tommi Ahlgren is also set to shatter Chris Amsden's single-season team records for save percentage (.922) and goals-against average (1.89). Both of Ahlgren's numbers (.956, 1.24) would also stand as new league records. A much quieter pursuit is that of the team's record for game-winning goals in a season. Rihards Marenis holds the team record for game-winning goals in a season (8), but Kohei Sato will have three chances to tie that record with a game-winner, and to get a second deciding tally to break it.
TWO'S COMPANY: Tommi Ahlgren is the first player in NA3HL history to reach seven shutouts, but he could have some company before the end of the season – Wisconsin goaltender Max McConnell has six shutouts going into a two-game stretch against the Rochester Ice Hawks, who have won just 10 games this season.
PLAYING STREAKY: North Iowa earned kudos around the junior hockey world when their winning streak reached an eventual 27 games earlier in 2016 before being toppled by the Breezy Point North Stars. As for Chicago, they've endured two of the four longest losing skids in the 3HL this season – the Jr. Bulldogs started their season with a 25-game losing streak before beating Southern Tier and Euless at the NA3HL Showcase prior to the Christmas break. Since then, the 'Dogs have dealt with another 17-game stretch without a win. Simply getting shots has been tricky for Todd McIlrath's team – only Louisiana has averaged fewer shots this season, and no NA3HL team has allowed more. As such, Chicago's average of 1.70 goals scored a game and 8.89 goals allowed per game are also at the bottom of those lists.
ON THE MARGIN: Of Chicago's 42 losses, 28 have come by six goals or more – only two games on Chicago's schedule have come down to the final goal. The Jr. Bulldogs are 1-8 in one-or-two-goal games and 1-34 in the remainder – North Iowa is 6-2-3 in one-or-two-goal games, and 33-0 in games decided by three goals or more, and 13 of those wins have come by a half-dozen goals or better.
MAD DOGS: Simply keeping five skaters on the ice at a time will need to be an emphasis for Chicago this weekend – the 'Dogs are the most-penalized team in the league this season, and their 70.5-percent mark on the penalty kill is ahead of only Evansville on the league leaderboard. Of the 14 players in the league with 130 penalty minutes or more (two full games, plus overtime), three are on the visiting roster, including 3HL penalty-minute leader Eric Arrigo (228). Matt Greco (166 PIM) is also in the league's top five. No team in the circuit has more five-minute major penalties (35) or game misconduct penalties (22) than Chicago.
WINTER PILE-UP: Now that the pileup of snow in the Midwest is beginning to melt, it's the points that are piling up for the Bulls – Timothy Hoffenkamp leads the Jr. Bulldogs with 27 points, which would rank him 13th on the North Iowa roster this season, between Jack Stang and Connor Bump. His team-best nine goals would land him 12th on the team, behind a logjam of four current Bulls players, each of whom have a dozen goals coming into the final weekend of the regular season.