SATURDAY, JAN. 23 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SUNDAY, JAN. 24 – 2:00 P.M., GREEN ISLAND ICE ARENA (La CROSSE, WIS.)
La CROSSE FREEZE (23-8-0, 46 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
VS. NORTH IOWA BULLS (29-1-1, 59 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa looks to begin a new winning streak starting Saturday night with a home-and-home pair against the La Crosse Freeze.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Bulls lead, 5-0-0 (first four wins in series came against the Flint Jr. Generals)
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: All good things must come to an end. North Iowa's NA3HL-record 27-game winning streak and the Bulls' undefeated history against the Breezy Point North Stars both came to their end on Friday night, in a 4-2 loss in Mason City. 1:40 into the game, another rout appeared to be on, following goals from Brett Gravelle and Tommy Hall – enter Tyler Larwood, whose two goals with 4:07 and 2:05 remaining in the game tied the contest and then gave the North Stars their only lead. Nick Blanchette's empty-net tally with 10 seconds remaining finished things off and sent the Bulls off the ice with their first home loss since February 6 of last year. Larwood rippled the net again barely a minute into the second period Saturday night to break a scoreless tie, stoking the home team's coals – five straight goals from five different players helped the Bulls cruise into the second intermission with a 5-1 lead on the way to a 6-2 win.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. A free audio webcast of Saturday's game will also be available at NorthIowaBulls.com, with Austin Draude on the call starting at 7:15.
BY THE NUMBERS: North Iowa broke three winning streaks this past weekend, all of which featured some staggering numbers:
27: The Bulls' 27-game overall run this season featured 180 Bulls goals, compared to just 33 for their visitors. Of those 27 wins, seven were shutout victories and 11 more saw just one goal allowed.
26: Breezy Point's Friday night win was the Stars' first against the Bulls following 26 straight losses to begin the series, dating back to the 2012-13 season. Only two of those first 26 meetings went to overtime, and the Bulls outscored their green-and-gold counterparts 192-42 and hit double-digits in nine games during that stretch.
20: The loss also ended a 20-game winning streak on the North Iowa ice, including three West Division playoff wins last year. 343 days elapsed between the Bulls' 4-2 loss to the Twin City Steel late last season and this past weekend's loss to Breezy Point. The Bulls fell just five home games shy of playing the equivalent of an entire season at home without a loss (22 home games, plus the three postseason victories).
TOP HONORS: Head coach Todd Sanden will be away for a few days in mid-February, coaching the NA3HL's Central team at the league's Top Prospects tournament. The event runs February 15 to 17 at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Michigan. Five Bulls players will be selected as part of the Central team, and two 18U Select team rosters will be chosen by the league. The final roster announcements for the Top Prospects event will be made next week.
MOVIN' ON UP (TO THE SOUTH SIDE): One North Iowa favorite will be departing the team this week – defenseman Jeff Solow was called up to the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL ahead of their weekend series against the Odessa Jackalopes. Solow had three goals and eight assists in 20 NA3HL games after coming to Mason City from the NAHL's Kenai River Brown Bears in late October. Replacing him will be forward Owen Larson, who has played 26 NAHL games this season with Minot and the Minnesota Magicians, scoring five goals and adding six assists.
HOT, HOT, HOT: North Iowa's 29-1-1 record speaks for itself, but Saturday's visitor to the Barn is also red-hot and rapidly cementing their top-two position in the Central Division standings. On Thanksgiving Day, La Crosse was 12-7-0, and had lost four of five. Since then, the Freeze have done more than simply thaw, winning 11 of their last 12 including a New Year's Day shelling of Rochester. Only a 5-3 loss to the Toledo Cherokee at the 3HL Showcase on December 18 has kept Ryan Egan's Freeze team from running off a dozen straight wins coming into the weekend.
WIN THE RACE: Getting and holding a lead is usually a pretty important aspect of winning a hockey game, but especially so for these two teams: North Iowa and La Crosse are a combined 43-3-1 when scoring first, 38-2-0 when leading after 20 minutes, and 44-2-0 with a lead entering the third period.
A TWO-HORSE RACE, THAT IS: The battle for the 3HL's goal-scoring lead appears to be down to just two players – Brett Gravelle and Frankie Melton (St. Louis) are tied with the league lead at 37 goals with eight weekends to go. The closest competitor is another Central Division scoring juggernaut: Wisconsin's Peter Henderson with 29 goals.
CLAIMING NEW TERRITORY: Sunday's game at the Green Island Ice Arena will be the first visit ever by a North Iowa junior hockey team to the La Crosse area. The USHL has never had a team based in La Crosse, and the NAHL did not have a member franchise in La Crosse until the North Iowa Outlaws left Mason City in 2010 to become the Coulee Region Chill.
HOCKEY'S FUTURE: The two-day regular season series against the Freeze will help Todd Sanden's team prepare for a highly-anticipated exhibition game next Wednesday against the Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres of Faribault, Minnesota. 15 former Shattuck players are currently rostered in the National Hockey League, and nearly 40 Sabres alumni have been taken in the NHL Draft over the last decade.