ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – After a one-year hiatus the NA3HL Silver Cup is coming back to Iowa. The North Iowa Bulls finished their 2015-16 season with four unanswered goals, including a natural hat trick from Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) and finished off the Metro Jets’ previously-undefeated Silver Cup tournament run with a 4-1 win. The championship is the third in four years for North Iowa at the NA3HL’s championship tournament.
As it turned out, the Bulls never once scored the first goal at the Silver Cup tournament in their five games. The opening goal came at 6:21 of the first period, immediately after a faceoff in the North Iowa end of the rink, itself coming after a tripping minor to Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./Academy of Holy Angels). Jacob Drinkard won the ensuing restart and sent it behind him to David Chavis, who threw the puck to the net and past David Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for what would turn out to be the only goal on the day for the tournament’s number-two seed. Forced to play down a goal again, Kohei Sato (Nishitokio, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) responded by zipping down the left wing and dragging in the game-tying goal at the 12:00 mark of the period, tying the game at one apiece heading into the second period.
Gravelle’s swan song as a North Iowa Bull began just 2:30 into the second period, with a weak-side rebound and tap-in at the front of the net. The Bulls would earn a power-play tally of their own at 7:37 of the period, with just 10 seconds left on penalty time to Metro’s Jason Recchia. From the left hash-marks Jack Stang (Mendota Heights, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) would send the puck deep into the zone on the weak side of the net, hitting Gravelle perfectly on the doorstep to chip it into the cage, with Kameron Limburg committed to his right side.
That goal would make it a 3-1 game but the party for the Bulls fans didn’t start until Gravelle buried an empty-net tally with 1:22 remaining on the third-period clock. Metro coach Justin Quenneville opted not to pull Limburg from the net with his team down three goals and the Bulls sent their equipment flying and rushed the ice at the final horn, earning the right to hoist the 3HL’s championship trophy. Johnson faced 32 shots in his finale with the Bulls, stopping 31 of those shots. Limburg saw 26 shots (not including the empty-netter), turning aside 23. With the championship, the season unofficially ends with a national championship as well – USA Hockey is not sponsoring a junior national tournament in 2016.
– The multi-goal game for Gravelle was his third of the postseason, with one coming in each round of the Central Division playoffs. It was his first hat trick since his record-breaking performance against the Chicago Jr. Bulldogs on March 13.
– Gravelle also ended the weekend with game-winning goals in three of the Bulls’ four wins. During the regular season, he tied for a team high with seven game-winners.
– With the Silver Cup championship, North Iowa ends the season with a 50-3-3 record (including the postseason) – it’s the third year in the last four for the Bulls with 50-plus victories.
– Kohei Sato ends the Silver Cup tournament with seven goals, the most of any player at the tournament (Gravelle and Texas forward Bryan Whelan each finished with five). Sato and Gravelle tied with Metro’s Kevin Shand and Jacob Drinkard for the overall scoring lead in Romeoville, with eight points apiece.
– The championship also puts a final stamp on the junior careers of 13 Bulls players who were born in 1995. Players who will turn 21 years old in 2016 (or already have) will not be eligible to play junior hockey next season.