MASON CITY, Iowa – It takes a lot of skill and will to get to 13 wins in a row, but sometimes it does take a little bit of luck to reach that “unlucky” number. North Iowa needed both Friday night in a 5-3 win over the Willmar Warhawks, and a couple of power-play goals sure didn’t hurt, either.
Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) tallied twice in the opening period, once off of a long rebound that he caught up to in the middle of the slot, and once off of a pass from Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s) behind the net, and by the 14:28 mark of the period, the Bulls were off and running. Riley Dixon was poised to slow down some of that momentum, as the Mequon, Wis. native buried a goal with just a shade under three minutes to go before the intermission.
Tim Kuivinen (Mahtomedi, Minn./Mahtomedi H.S.) added his pair of goals in the second period, starting at the 2:25 mark with Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) and Owen Larson (Minneapolis, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) setting up the first of the team’s two power-play goals. Barnes added another assist on Kuivinen’s second goal just 2:11 later to make it a 4-1 game, but for all of the combos that the Bulls have thrown at their opponents this year, Willmar finally threw one back at the home team at the midway point of the period. Alec Skar pounded in his fourth goal at 10:37 of the second, and Riley Tigrett added another just 62 seconds later, but a one-goal lead held up for the Bulls heading to the third period.
The final 20 minutes was all about the Bulls’ special-teams units – all five Willmar power-play opportunities came in the third period, and the North Iowa penalty-kill unit fought off every single one of those chances, and when the Bulls finally got an opportunity of their own late in the period they made the Warhawks pay, and added some cushion back into the lead. A major penalty for Leonardo Ewald at 11:22 of the third period was a footnote in a two-minute 4-on-3 chance for the Warhawks, but once Steven Mordini (Baraboo, Wis./Team Wisconsin) and Mike Lyons (Bartlett, Ill./North Iowa Bulls) left the box the man-advantage went to the Bulls, and the puck went to Lyons at the top of the slot for a one-time boomer, and the slapshot beat Alexander Cathcart to push the final lead back to two goals.
“It’s kind of hard to explain how you get those goals,” said Mallonee. “We were moving the puck well and we were working hard. I think the whole team played well tonight, and I was lucky enough to get those two.”
R.J. Pluhar (Glen Carbon, Ill./Aberdeen Wings) earned his second win in a Bulls uniform, getting just past the halfway point and holding a 4-3 lead when he exited after Tigrett’s tally. Brady Meyers (Rochester, Minn./John Marshall H.S.) was a star in relief, stopping all 12 Willmar shots after Pluhar’s return to the bench. Five Bulls players finished the night with multi-point games, including Mallonee and Kuivinen’s pair of goals apiece.
North Iowa can push their winning streak beyond halfway to last year’s record pace with a win Saturday night as the Warhawks and Bulls finish off their weekend series. It’s Military Night at “The Barn,” as the Bulls auction off a special set of game-worn jerseys following the contest to benefit the Families’ Alliance for Veterans of America. In addition, all active and retired military members will be admitted to the game for just $2. All Bulls games, home and away are streamed live on HockeyTV – all Bulls home games and select road games are also audio-streamed live on Mixlr.