IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls head to the northern expanses of the NA3HL map for a two-game weekend set against the Minnesota Flying Aces, who are trying to get back out of the bottom spot in the 3HL’s West Division standings.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 33-1-1 (Bulls have won 32 in a row in the series)
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: The Bulls had the Thanksgiving weekend off, but took down their two closest competitors on Friday and Saturday the previous weekend. The La Crosse Freeze dropped their first meeting against North Iowa on Friday night, 7-1 – a 4-for-5 outing on the power play made the difference for the home team in that game. In Saturday’s 5-2 win over the Wisconsin Whalers, Brett Gravelle stuffed the stat sheet with a hat trick, plus an assist on the opening goal of the game by Marshall Barnes (1st period, 15:18, PP).
NEXT HOME GAMES: North Iowa returns to the Madhouse in Mason City next weekend for a critical two-game home series against the West Division leader and former divisional archrival Granite City Lumberjacks. Both the Friday and Saturday night games are set for a 7:30 p.m. faceoff at the North Iowa Ice Arena. These are the Bulls’ last home games of 2015.
COVERAGE: All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. North Iowa's audio webcast schedule resumes with next Saturday night's home game against Granite City.
STEP FORWARD AND CLAIM YOUR PRIZE: Two Bulls players have earned some extra hardware from the NA3HL office in the last couple of weeks. Defenseman and team captain Adam Orn is the latest, named Thursday as the league’s Easton Hockey Defenseman of the Month, posting a +11 mark in the Bulls’ six November outings, and earning at least a point in five of the six games. With the Thanksgiving time off, Brett Gravelle did not have a chance to defend his Easton Hockey Central Division Star of the Week award from the weekend of November 20-21. That award was well-earned as well, with five goals and a pair of assists against La Crosse and Wisconsin in the two home wins.
FOLLOW THE LEADER: The weekend off has taken Gravelle off the top of the NA3HL’s scoring leaderboard, but not far off the top. Gravelle comes into the weekend just three points back of Atlanta’s Kyle Rimbach for the league points lead (41), and just a goal behind Frankie Melton (St. Louis) for the 3HL’s lead in goals. His 11 goals remains atop the league’s powerplay scoring leaderboard.
HIGHER LEVEL: Both coaches in this weekend’s series have solid ties to the United States Hockey League, USA Hockey’s top-level junior circuit. North Iowa Bulls coach Todd Sanden spent time behind the bench of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints during the late 1990s, just before Jim Jensen’s three-year stint in the league began. Jensen played defenseman for the Waterloo Black Hawks from 2001-03, and returned to the team for the 2004-05 campaign. He would play almost 150 games for the team under Scott Koberinski and current Hawks coach P.K. O’Handley (himself a former North Iowa hockey coach).
MAJOR TALENT: This weekend could mark the Bulls debut for forward Sean Mallonee, who comes to the Bulls from the Western Hockey League’s Everett (Washington) Silvertips – Mallonee joined the ‘Tips this year after playing in their AAA program in the NAPHL. The Kennewick, Washington native played in four games for Everett this season and picked up his only WHL point in an October 3 contest at the Portland Winterhawks.
FIRE AWAY: The Bulls have not just scored goals at a faster clip than all of their 3HL brethren this season, they’re also getting more shots than almost any other team in the league. Only Yellowstone and the Metro Jets are getting more pucks to the net than North Iowa this season, and the Bulls have only failed to outshoot their opponent once this season (40-26, September 19 at Wisconsin, in a 2-1 overtime loss).
HITTING THE WALL: Minnesota rebounded rather nicely from a 1-5-1 start, winning five in a six-game stretch from October 17 to November 5, bookended by wins over the Rochester Ice Hawks. In the last four weeks, though, the Flying Aces have fallen to the back of the pack in the 3HL West Division with seven straight defeats, adding only one standings point in that span (November 27, a 5-4 overtime loss at La Crosse).