ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – It took another third-period surge for the North Iowa Bulls to make their mark on their NA3HL Silver Cup tournament opponent Thursday night, falling behind early before zipping in four unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes to take a 4-1 win against the Great Falls Americans in pool play. After taking the lead, Kohei Sato (Nishitokio, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) sewed up the team’s second win of the week, and an almost certain spot in the Silver Cup semifinals on Saturday afternoon.
The only goal of the first 40 minutes came less than four minutes into the game, on a 2-on-1 break into the Bulls’ end of the rink. A long-distance pass from the Americans’ zone found Josh Larson on his way into the Bulls’ half of the rink, and he walked the puck ahead to the faceoff circle to David Johnson’s (Bloomington, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) left before ripping one home with 16:03 showing on the first-period clock. 24 opportunities for the Bulls over the first two periods were stopped short of the goal line, with Great Falls controlling the passing lanes in the neutral zone and Jake Stephan standing tall in net. Despite an 18-4 shots-on-goal advantage for the Bulls in the middle stanza of the game, the Great Falls netminder stopped every shot that came his way to that point, allowing only a handful of rebounds along the way.
At 1:31 of the third period, the Bulls finally got the chance they needed, with Austin Jackson (Waterloo, Iowa/Minnesota Magicians) bringing the puck up the left-wing boards. A long pass from the left half-wall found Mitch Parsons (Grandville, Mich./Grandville H.S.) on the secondary break, and Parsons would take the feed at the front of the net and tap in the tying goal. For the second straight night, Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) would be credited with the gamewinner, snagging a takeaway in front of the red line and juking his way ahead into the faceoff circle to Stephan’s left. Gravelle’s wrist shot beat Stephan to his left for an unassisted goal ad a 2-1 lead with 8:10 remaining in the game. With the Bulls pushing for cushion and Great Falls working for an equalizer, Sato stepped off the bench on a full-five line change and blasted his way down the left wing before ripping the puck off of a Great Falls stick just 10 feet from the cage and banging in the insurance goal. That marker pushed the lead to 3-1 with 2:20 to go, and Sato’s final goal came just 23 seconds later, on a bouncing pass and a backhand goal on the doorstep.
Johnson moved to 3-0 in the postseason, finishing with 19 saves for the Bulls. Stephan finished with 29 saves for the Americans, stopping just five of the nine shots he saw in the final period. North Iowa will have a chance to cinch up the top spot in Pool A on Friday evening with a 7 p.m. faceoff against the Point Mallard Ducks on Rink 2 at Canlan Ice Sports.
– After two games Sato is the leading goal-scorer in the Silver Cup tournament with four goals – by scoring two in each game, he also becomes the only player with multi-goal games in each appearance so far at the tournament. He had just two goals in the team’s four divisional playoff games.
– The 20 shots allowed by North Iowa’s defense is a playoff low this season, and the fewest the team has allowed in a 3HL postseason game since last year’s Silver Cup pool-play game against Great Falls (Chris Amsden: 14 saves on 15 shots).