FRIDAY, FEB. 5 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA
SATURDAY, FEB. 6 – 7:10 P.M., NEW ULM CIVIC CENTER (NEW ULM, MINN.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (32-1-2, 66 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. TWIN CITY STEEL (20-11-4, 44 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa plays the second of two weekend home-and-home series this season to wrap up the 2015-16 series against the Twin City Steel.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 31-6-1 (The Bulls have never swept a season series against the Steel).
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: North Iowa will not come out of 2015-16 with a regular-season sweep of the defending NA3HL Silver Cup champs following a 1-0 overtime loss to Granite City last Friday night. The Bulls and Lumberjacks played to a scoreless tie for more than 64 minutes before Andrej Jamnicky snuck one past Tommi Ahlgren to give the Bulls their first shutout loss in franchise history. Ahlgren stopped the first 21 shots he saw, while Mac Berglove stopped every one of the Bulls' 32 shots on the night. David Johnson pitched his second shutout of the year on Saturday, answering back with a 3-0 win for North Iowa. Austin Jackson and Owen Larson tallied goals in the first two periods, before Riley Meyer's empty-netter sealed the deal with 49 seconds on the clock. Johnson held all 34 'Jacks shots out of the net to salvage the weekend split.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at FASTHockey.com. Both games this weekend are available exclusively on FASTHockey, with Vinnie Perricelli on the call on Friday. Our free audio webcast schedule resumes on Friday, Feb. 26 against the Rochester Ice Hawks.
NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN FEATS OF STRENGTH: It took the North Iowa Bulls franchise quite a while to walk off the ice with its first shutout loss. Todd Sanden's team had scored a goal in every game in its history going into Friday – 239 regular-season games, 29 NA3HL postseason contests and nine games at the USA Hockey national championships – 277 games in all. (Special thanks to the Mason City Globe Gazette's Jared Patterson for this research.)
CALL AND RAISE: A losing streak, though? That continues to be a rarity for the Bulls. After starting their first season in the 3HL with a 1-7 mark, the team has only embarked on five losing streaks in regular-season play, totaling 11 games. No losing streak since that initial season has been longer than two games, including a New Year's weekend sweep at the hands of the Steel last year.
COOLING DOWN: Twin City started the season with one of the NA3HL's best records themselves, taking a 9-0-2 record into the final weekend of October. Since then, though, the Steel have shot an even-par round in 3HL play, with an 11-11-2 record since then. A 7-4 loss at Alexandria last Saturday snapped a three-game Twin City winning streak, their first since early February.
POINTS – POINTS EVERYWHERE: There has been the occasional blemish on the Bulls' record this season, but Todd Sanden's team has come away with at least one point in every contest on hostile ice this season. Both of the Bulls' road losses this season – against Granite City and Wisconsin – came in the extra session. Dating back to last year, North Iowa has earned at least one point in 22 consecutive regular-season road games.
JOHNSON'S SWEET SIXTEEN: David Johnson has still been impossible to beat in net this season. Three other NA3HL netminders have more wins than he has, but none have done so without losing a contest – in fact, the closest goaltender on the league's wins list with a perfect record is Wisconsin's Roni Sener – with seven. Johnson also has an active 18-game winning streak dating back to last season, plus three appearances without a decision.
NEW ULM – NEW DESTINATION: Saturday night's destination – New Ulm, Minnesota – is a brand-new pin in the map for North Iowa. The town itself has a tie to the Bulls – forward Brody Peterson, a New Ulm native, played six games for the team during its first national championship season in 2012-13.
RIPPLING THE TWINE: North Iowa will bring its season-best 5.77 goals-per-game average into this weekend's home-and-home set, but don't expect much of an energy shortage from the Steel – Jay Witta's team has scored 4.40 goals per game itself, good for a top-10 position on the NA3HL's team scoring leaderboard. Partially due in part to their offensive prowess, Twin City sits just five points back of Granite City for the 3HL West Division lead with a dozen games to go.
THERE'S A NEW KID IN TOWN: That second goal in Saturday's game against Granite City gave Minnesota Magicians transfer Owen Larson his first point in a Bulls uniform last Saturday night. Larson tallied six penalty minutes but did not register a point in his first two games with the team after playing 26 NAHL games with the Magicians and Minot Minotauros earlier in the season. Friday's game is set to be his first on home ice at the Barn.
UNOFFICIALLY SPEAKING: North Iowa wasn't the only team to step out of league play in recent weeks. Twin City filled a gap on the Iowa State University hockey schedule on Friday, January 22, left behind by the Iowa Hawkeye hockey club. The Steel allowed three goals in the opening period of a 5-2 win, as Tyler Hoff and Cory Martinez found the back of the net during the brief stop in Ames. The Bulls won their exhibition game last Wednesday against Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school by a 5-3 tally, thanks in part to two third-period goals from Austin Jackson.