FRIDAY, JAN. 29 – 7:30 P.M., SPORTS ARENA EAST (SAUK RAPIDS, MINN.)
SATURDAY, JAN. 30 – 7:30 P.M., SPORTS ARENA EAST (SAUK RAPIDS, MINN.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (31-1-1, 63 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ GRANITE CITY LUMBERJACKS (23-9-1, 47 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: Two NA3HL division leaders meet up in Sauk Rapids as the North Iowa Bulls look to wrap up a win in the season series against the Granite City Lumberjacks.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 29-15-3 (Bulls have won five regular-season meetings in a row).
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: North Iowa's current three-game winning streak is its second-longest of the season, after a weekend sweep of the La Crosse Freeze. North Iowa picked up a 4-0 win over La Crosse on Saturday night last weekend behind two power play goals from Carmen Dalesandro and Tommy Stang. Stang's tally with less than six minutes remaining in the third period wrapped up the scoring for the game. The Bulls went on the road the following day and gutted out a 3-1 victory over the Freeze, following an early goal from Brady Thiering. His goal at 2:51 of the first period gave La Crosse its only lead of the game, a lead that stood up for almost 31 minutes before Quinn Fuchs put one past Andrew Wagner to tie the game. Kohei Sato's goal at 16:23 of the second period, less than three minutes after the game-tying goal from Fuchs, was the eventual game-winner.
NEXT HOME GAME: The Madhouse in Mason City will host NA3HL hockey again next Friday night, February 5 as the Twin City Steel visit town to start a weekend home-and-home set against the top team in the 3HL's Central Division.
COVERAGE: All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. Saturday's game will also feature a free audio webcast live on northiowabulls.com. The free audio webcast schedule on NorthIowaBulls.com resumes with North Iowa's home game Friday, February 26 against the Rochester Ice Hawks.
FUTURE PHENOMS: Though it doesn't count in the NA3HL standings, Todd Sanden's team landed a huge win on Wednesday night against one of the nation's most storied prep hockey programs. Austin Jackson scored two goals and added an assist to help North Iowa defeat Shattuck-St. Mary's 5-3. Tommi Ahlgren came up huge in net for the home team, making 37 saves on 40 Sabres shots. Mitch Parsons, Kohei Sato and Brett Gravelle each had a goal of his own in the game.
TOP TEN: Nearly half of the North Iowa Bulls roster will be headed to Plymouth, Michigan during the week of February 15-17 for the NA3HL's Top Prospects Tournament. In addition to head coach Todd Sanden, who will be leading the Central team, Bulls players Tommi Ahlgren, Joe Burgmeier, Adam Orn, Austin Jackson and Brett Gravelle will all be joining him on the Central Division roster. The Midwest Division will be borrowing a goalie from the Bulls as well, allowing David Johnson to take part in the tourney. The 3HL office also selected two teams of top U18 talent, placing North Iowa's Marshall Barnes, Shane Bernhardson, Sean Mallonee and Tommy Stang on the U18 Selects Black team.
HAULING IN THE HARDWARE: The Bulls and Lumberjacks haven't just battled for regular-season points and pride in their five-year history together in the league – they've battled year in and year out for postseason hardware. The teams have split the NA3HL's Silver Cup championship over the last four years, with each team winning two – the Lumberjacks won it last year on the virtue of a 3-2 win in the championship game. North Iowa has won two of the last three national titles, though, and the Bulls' pool-play loss to Granite City knocked the Lumberjacks out of title contention on a head-to-head goal-differential tiebreaker.
THE (PENALTY) KILLERS: Special-teams goals will likely be significantly more difficult to come by in this particular series – the Bulls and Lumberjacks feature the league's top two penalty-killing units, with North Iowa registering a successful penalty kill over 90 percent of the time. Granite City has held opposing power play units off the scoreboard in more than 89 percent of its chances so far in 2015-16.
SHORT STUFF: Both teams have landed a few shorthanded pucks in the back of the net this season, but shorthanded goals haven't been a part of the conversation for the Granite City powerplay unit this season. Of the 34 teams in the NA3HL this season, only the Lumberjacks have not given up a single shorthanded tally – Granite City netminders have posted perfect marks on 162 man-advantage opportunities so far this season. (For the record, North Iowa has had 170 cracks at the power play this season, and allowed only two tallies by a team playing down at least a man.)
THE 40-MINUTE MARK: Despite leading the West Division, Granite City has had a difficult time reversing its fortunes going into the third period, for better and for worse. The Lumberjacks are deadly with a lead after two periods, going 21-0-0 when taking a lead into the second intermission. When trailing after 40 minutes, though, the script is flipped, with an 0-9-0 mark. (For the record, Brad Willner's team is 2-0-1 when neither team has a lead going to the third period.)