Post Game Report 3-12
MASON CITY, Iowa – The NA3HL regular season ended Sunday evening for the North Iowa Bulls and La Crosse Freeze, but the winter sure hasn’t ended yet. As a Selection Sunday snowstorm roared outside, a fast start for the Bulls quickly snowballed as Todd Sanden’s team left the ice with a 5-2 victory over La Crosse. The Bulls wrapped up the regular season with a 35-10-2 record, and would be seeded no lower than sixth should they win the Central Division playoffs and advance to the Silver Cup national championship tournament. Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) led the charge in North Iowa’s regular-season finale with a hat trick, including two goals in the opening 14 minutes.
“We’ve known for quite a while who we were going to play [in the playoffs], and that we were qualified as the number-one seed from the Central Division,” said Sanden. “I think for some of our players it’s probably an exhale, in that everything else is behind them. It’s a fresh slate. Everybody has a chance to be really good, and it’s a new season as far as numbers go. We’re looking for several of our kids to elevate their games. There are always some kids that this is their time of the year, where we didn’t see it in the regular season and they’re just great playoff performers.”
The Bulls got off to a quick start, with a conveyor-belt of passes off the left-wing wall just 5:30 into the game. Braxton Collins (Eau Claire, Wis./Coulee Region Chill) fed the puck down low to Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./Bismarck Bobcats), who found Bump for a quick tally and the early lead.
Just three minutes later, Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s) led a pass out in front for Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./Dallas Stars Elite), whose snap shot found the back of the net for a 2-0 lead. It only took 64 more seconds for the lead to balloon again, this time with a shot in front from Mitch Parsons (Grandville, Mich./North Iowa Bulls).
Bump racked up the fourth goal of the game less than 14 minutes in, after catching a long-range pass at the La Crosse blue line. The former Prior Lake standout sprinted toward the Freeze net and gave the puck an extra drag before flipping it in past Andrew Wagner for a 4-0 lead.
That lead stood up heading to the late stages of the second period, when Nathan Marquardt cut into the lead with just 3:11 to go before the intermission. The Bulls played most of the third period with a three-goal lead before Hunter Dolan lit the lamp to trim the lead to 4-2 with just 4:10 on the clock.
The Freeze made a solid push at the end of the contest, including a couple of 6-on-5 chances after Wagner left the ice with just over a minute to play. The scene was set for a hat trick, though, and with the Bulls looking to put the dagger in their opponents, Arnold fed the puck into the slot from the left-wing hashmarks, allowing Bump to tap it in for the team’s final goal in regular-season play.
“We need some offensive production (from Tyler) and we need him to be a plus player (in the playoffs),” said Sanden. “He’s scoring points 5-on-5, and obviously we hope he chips in on the power play, but obviously being a plus player and getting on the score sheet for us, he’s going to help us win games.”
Bump has been on a tear since joining North Iowa’s roster on Jan. 14 – Sunday’s game was his first hat trick in a junior hockey game, but he has posted points in 14 of his 16 games with North Iowa and goals in 11 of those games.
La Crosse ends its season at 23-22-2, and will take the second seed into their playoff series against the Wisconsin Whalers next weekend. Brady Meyers (Rochester, Minn./Austin Bruins) earned the win in his first appearance in three weeks, stopping 26 of La Crosse’s 28 shots. The Freeze loss went to Wagner, who stopped 26 of the 30 shots he faced.
While the Whalers and Freeze will tangle in the first round of the Central Division playoffs, North Iowa will take on the Rochester Ice Hawks in a rematch of last year’s division semifinals. The Bulls have never lost to Rochester in 14 meetings since the Ice Hawks joined the league last season. The Bulls and Ice Hawks will square off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night in Mason City, with a 7:05 p.m. start in Game 2 at Rochester on Saturday. All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live on HockeyTV – Bulls home games and select road games are also audio-streamed on Mixlr.