FRIDAY, NOV. 20 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IA)
La CROSSE FREEZE (12-4-0, 24 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ NORTH IOWA BULLS (15-0-1, 31 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The two Central Division leaders square off in their first meeting since the Flint Jr. Generals moved to La Crosse. The last time the Bulls and Jr. Generals met up, North Iowa won two games in as many days to take the 2014 Silver Cup and move on to the national tournament.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Bulls lead, 4-0-0 (Bulls vs. La Crosse: 0-0-0; Bulls vs. Flint: 4-0-0)
SATURDAY, NOV. 21 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IA)
WISCONSIN WHALERS (10-8-0, 20 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ NORTH IOWA BULLS (15-0-1, 31 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls began their national title defense with a win in mid-September at the Whalers’ home rink, and North Iowa commemorated its national championship last month with a banner-raising and a home win. This time, the Bulls hope to start the Thanksgiving break with a Saturday night W.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Bulls lead, 11-1-1 (Bulls vs. Wisconsin: 3-0-1; Bulls vs. Quad City: 8-1-1)
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: Todd Sanden’s team swept a weekend home-and-home against the Twin City Steel in a battle of division leaders. Four first-period goals highlighted the Bulls’ 8-3 win at home on Friday night, and Saturday’s story was much the same in a 6-1 game where the four second-period goals turned out to be the headline.
THIS WEEKEND’S PROMOTIONS: The Bulls will hit the ice Friday night in the true Thanksgiving spirit, with the North Iowa Youth Center to give away four turkey dinner baskets complete with all the fixins' and sides, vegetables, rolls, and a pie from Perkins (and, of course, the turkey itself!). Saturday night will feature another postgame skate with the Bulls, and a pair of lucky kids will win bikes from Anytime Fitness during the third period.
COVERAGE: All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. Free audio streams will also be available for both games this weekend on northiowabulls.com. Austin Draude will have the play-by-play call for both games, starting at 7:15 p.m.
PILING UP THE POINTS: Brett Gravelle spent the weekend climbing the NA3HL’s scoring leaderboard again, despite snapping his ongoing point streak on Saturday. Gravelle’s five-point game against Twin City have pushed him to within two points of the league’s scoring lead, and capped an incredible seven-game point streak that included a hat trick and five multi-goal games. In all, Gravelle scored 12 goals and added five assists during those seven games. Gravelle also holds the league lead in power play goals entering the weekend (8)
PLAYMAKERS: Gravelle isn’t the only Bulls player hanging out on the league leaderboard lately. Marshall Barnes goes into the weekend tied for the league lead in assists (22), and Kohei Sato has scored four game-winning goals in his 10 games to tie for the league lead in that category. Tom Lindgren’s plus-minus rating (+27) also puts him in a second-place tie in the NA3HL.
NO LUCK NECESSARY: North Iowa’s Friday night win over Twin City last week was their 13th in a row at home, including their three home wins in the West Division playoffs last season. Their overall winning streak, home and away, stands at 14 games heading into the weekend.
NO BEGINNER’S LUCK EITHER: Quinn Fuchs has played 59 games over two years as a member of his hometown Minot Minotauros in the NAHL, but he has looked right at home in a Bulls uniform. Fuchs’s first-period goal last Friday eventually proved to be the game-winner in North Iowa’s 8-3 win over Twin City, and he also assisted on a second-period goal against the Steel on Saturday.
BUILD A WALL…: Tommi Ahlgren’s pursuit of the NA3HL’s shutout record has been slowed, but only slightly – Ahlgren remains at four shutouts for the season after holding the Wisconsin Whalers scoreless on the last night of October, but has won both of his outings in the month of November. Saturday’s game could be a battle of backstopping stalwarts, as the Whalers’ Max McConnell comes into the weekend with three shutouts of his own. The league record is six, set by several players including David Johnson last year and Chris Amsden in 2013-14.
…AND THEN KNOCK IT DOWN: The Bulls and Whalers may have two of the best goaltenders in the NA3HL, but Saturday’s game will also pit two of the league’s best offenses against each other. North Iowa rocketed right to the top of the league with 6.5 goals a game, while Wisconsin’s 4.8 goals a game ranks fourth. On the other hand, North Iowa will have to solve one of the 3HL’s top defenses on Saturday – the La Crosse Freeze are one of just four teams in the league to allow two or fewer goals a game so far this season.
HOMECOMING: Two familiar faces will be “coming home” to the North Iowa Ice Arena this weekend as part of La Crosse’s road trip. Assistant coach Alex North spent the 2013-14 season on the Bulls’ bench, and Freeze director of business operations Tyler Olson spent two years in the Bulls’ front office as an intern and business operations coordinator prior to departing for La Crosse in August.