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Series Preview: North Iowa Bulls vs. La Crosse Freeze

NA3HL CENTRAL DIVISION FINALS

The Morning Skate 3-24

FRIDAY, MAR. 23 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATUR
DAY, MAR. 24 – 7:05 P.M., GREEN ISLAND ICE ARENA (La CROSSE, WIS.)
*SUNDAY, MAR. 25 – 5:00 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA) (if necessary)

La CROSSE FREEZE (23-22-2, 48 pts) (ROSTERSTATS)
vs. NORTH IOWA BULLS (35-10-2, 72 pts) (ROSTERSTATS)

 

IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls and Freeze play on home ice for the last time this season, with a Silver Cup tournament bid waiting for the winner of the series. This weekend’s set is a best-two-of-three affair.

ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads La Crosse 15-1-0 (only loss: Jan. 7, 2-0 at La Crosse).

 

LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: North Iowa ran its all-time record against the Rochester Ice Hawks to 16-0-0, breezing past a young Ice Hawks team in a pair of playoff matchups on Friday and Saturday.  Quick starts were the name of both games, as the Bulls rolled up a 3-0 lead after the first period in both games – Tyler Bump got things rolling with the opening goal in Friday’s contest, and Braxton Collins notched a pair in a 7-1 win. The Bulls brought a 34-4 shots-on-goal edge into the final period Friday night, and racked up a 62-14 margin for the game on Saturday. Eight different players scored in Game 2, and Marshall Barnes‘s tally at 6:51 of the first period stood all on its own in an 8-0 win. Drew Scites kept Rochester out of the North Iowa net for all 60 minutes, earning his first shutout in a Bulls sweater. The Bulls have now won at least one playoff series in all six seasons in franchise history.

THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: Barring a third game, Friday night’s contest will be the last home game for the Bulls this season, with Budweiser two-fers throughout the game. For information on upcoming Bulls promotions, click here.

COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at HockeyTV.com. All home games and select road games, including Saturday’s game at La Crosse, are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here. Due to NA3HL streaming restrictions, this is the last weekend games will be available on Mixlr – Bulls games will not be audio-streamed should North Iowa advance to the Silver Cup national championship tournament.

 

GAME NOTES

HE’S A HANDFUL: Tyler Bump is on a roll as the Bulls head into their final weekend of the Central Division playoffs – the Prior Lake, Minn. native has now tallied goals in five straight games, including a hat trick against La Crosse two weeks ago. In just 18 games in a North Iowa uniform, he’s racked up 18 goals and 11 assists, one of seven Bulls to post a point-a-game average this season with at least 18 games under his belt. Connor Clemons and Owen Larson also compiled five-game goal-scoring streaks earlier this season.

WE’RE A HANDFUL TOO: With two wins this weekend, North Iowa will move on to the Silver Cup national championship tournament for the fifth year in a row. The Bulls’ record there has been a pretty good one, with 3HL titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016. Only in their inaugural season (2011-12) was North Iowa stopped in the division finals.

GREAT IN THE LAST EIGHT: Drew Scites started his junior career with a shutout loss to La Crosse, but it’s been all upward from there. The Plymouth, Minn. native lost three of his first four decisions and was pulled from a game Feb. 10 against Rochester after giving up three goals on just 19 shots. Since then, Scites has been on fire, with wins in seven of his last eight outings and a save percentage of .960 during those seven wins, with none of those teams posting more than a pair of goals. St. Louis was the only team to figure him out, in a 4-2 contest on Mar. 4.

THE NOT-SO-DISTANT PAST: These two teams met just two weeks ago, and the Bulls finished off the regular season with a 5-2 victory over the Freeze on the North Iowa home ice. As mentioned, Bump racked up the first hat trick of his junior career, but Brendan Studioso and Mitch Parsons‘s first-period goals also deserve a mention. The Bulls were up 4-0 going to the second period, but saw the lead dwindle to a pair of goals with just 4:10 left in the contest before Bump’s empty-netter in the final minute. Brady Meyers stopped 26 La Crosse shots, earning his first victory in a month.

COMEBACK KIDS: The three games in last weekend’s La Crosse/Wisconsin playoff series were all topsy-turvy affairs, with the Freeze coming away with wins in the final two. Last Friday’s 5-4 Whalers victory involved four ties and four lead changes, with Broddey Richards scoring the game-winner at the 7:33 mark of the first period. La Crosse was down 2-0 on Saturday before Donny Schultz scored a pair of second-period goals to equal the visitors. Lukas Motloch’s goal at 14:27 of the second stood up as the winner. A pair of quick goals in the second period set up a furious finish in the third period of the third game, as Danny Toycen knocked one in with 8:35 to go to send the Freeze back to the division finals against the Bulls.

FLASHBACK: Lukas Motloch, Donny Schultz and Kadin Machusak came into La Crosse’s weekend set against Alexandria and the Bulls two weeks ago on impressive runs – while those streaks are no more, they are still on three of the hottest runs in the league. Lukas Motloch did not score in either game against the Blizzard and did not play against the Bulls on Mar. 12, but scored three goals in the first two games last week against the Whalers. Donny Schultz had three points, including a couple of goals in last Saturday’s Game 2 win. Kadin Machusak played in all three games, but mustered only a Game 2 assist and a +1 mark last weekend.

DEFENSIVE STRUGGLE: Whomever wins this weekend’s best-two-of-three series will have to contend with a hot goaltender – the Bulls will be up against Andrew Wagner, who has given up just three goals over the last two games, and posted a .944 save percentage over La Crosse’s two wins. The Bulls’ goalie of choice so far has been Scites, who allowed only the one marker against Rochester last Friday night. He saw just 35 shots last weekend, but stopped 34 of them for a .971 save percentage. He’s one of only four goalies to allow fewer than one goal per game so far in the playoffs, and two of them still haven’t let one past.

GO GO POWER RANGERS: Though the sample size is small, each team has been at a significant advantage with the extra man in this short playoff run. La Crosse scored on three of their 11 power-play chances last weekend, including two of their five power plays at Wisconsin on Friday. The Bulls were 2-of-5 at Rochester last weekend, and 1-of-2 at home against the Ice Hawks, putting their mark for the weekend at just under 43 percent.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Follow the North Iowa Bulls all season long through the team’s official Facebook, Twitter, YouTube  and Instagram pages.