The Morning Skate 2-3
FRIDAY, FEB. 3 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATURDAY, FEB. 4 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (27-6-1, 55 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ GRANITE CITY LUMBERJACKS (24-5-6, 54 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: One of the NA3HL’s great rivalries will be renewed again this weekend as the Bulls host the ‘Jacks for their second weekend get-together this year.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 31-16-4 (the last meeting between the teams in November ended the Bulls’ 15-game winning streak).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: The Bulls will have to wait another year to finally earn that first season sweep of the New Ulm Steel, thanks to a home loss on Friday night. The Steel came away with a 6-4 victory, building a 3-1 lead going to the second period before North Iowa went on a second-period run to tie the game and then took the lead early in the third on Sean Mallonee‘s power-play goal. Three straight goals from there, though, helped to put away the contest for the visitors. The Bulls were the visitors in Saturday’s game, forging a 5-1 win to split the weekend – Tyler Bump had the opening goal with just 31 seconds remaining in the first period to take the lead for the Bulls, and bookended it with a second goal with 10:40 to go. Mallonee finished the night with a game-high three assists, and Brady Meyers picked up his first win since the opening week of December.
THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: The Bulls will auction off special jerseys this weekend to benefit My Happy Place in Mason City, the second of three special-jersey weekends at “The Barn” this season. Saturday’s game will also feature a Postgame Skate with the Bulls during the jersey auction. 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 are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.
GOING BUST: North Iowa’s loss last Friday against the New Ulm Steel snapped a 21-game home winning streak dating all the way back to last February. The last loss for the Bulls on home ice in Mason City also came against the Steel, last Feb. 5 with a 5-4 decision in overtime. The Bulls also lost their first regulation home contest since last Jan. 15, when the Breezy Point North Stars beat their hosts 4-2 to win their first game ever in the series.
HISTORY CLASS: Though the games against Granite City don’t decide a West Division title anymore, there have been some all-time great games played between the teams during the last few seasons. Last year’s 1-0 overtime win in Sauk Rapids was the first-ever shutout loss for the Bulls, and this year’s 3-2 loss up north ended a 15-game winning streak, one of the great runs in North Iowa history. One also can’t forget the 2014-15 season, when the final weekend of the regular season featured a pair of games against the Lumberjacks, plus a divisional playoff series and meetings at the Silver Cup and USA Hockey national tournaments. In all, eight games in a 14-game span leading into the national championship game were played between the Bulls and the ‘Jacks.
TITLE TIME: This weekend’s games, though, could still decide a division championship for North Iowa – the magic number is down to just one against the La Crosse Freeze for a second straight Central Division championship. The Freeze beat Rochester last Sunday to mathematically stay in the race, but the math certainly isn’t fuzzy – with North Iowa holding all tiebreakers, any Bulls win over the final six weekends of the year or any kind of La Crosse loss ends the race and gives the Bulls home-ice advantage all the way through the Silver Cup playoffs.
IT’S GOOD TO BE HOME: Home-ice advantage is always taken to a new level when North Iowa and Granite City collide – thanks to the November split, North Iowa is still under .500 on the Benton County Fairgrounds with a 10-12-3 record on the Armadillo Deck Rink. At home, though, the record is substantially more favorable for the Bulls at 19-2-1. On neutral ice, the rivalry is perfectly neutral, with each team nabbing a pair of victories.
FAMILIAR FACES: One of the top contributors over the last few weeks for the Bulls spent some time with their opponents earlier this season – Horka Sekesi played two games with Granite City earlier this year and was a contributor in their win over New Ulm in his NA3HL debut. The German native capped a four-goal second period for the Lumberjacks on Nov. 12 with his first Granite City goal, tallying with less than a second remaining. He’s come up big in his six games in a North Iowa sweater, totaling three points including a goal at home last Friday against the Steel.
THE SKINNY ON GRANITE CITY: Granite City has climbed firmly into the top spot in the West Division behind two of the league’s top goaltenders – David Mulligan’s 1.63 goals-against average is fifth in the NA3HL, and Mac Berglove’s 15 wins puts him in a tie for fourth on the 48-team circuit. Their penalty kill has also been impressive, knocking out 87 percent of opposing teams’ man-advantage situations. Overtime situations, though, have certainly not been friendly to Brad Willner’s team, losing all six games that have gone to extra time. Only two of those games, including their first contest against the Bulls this year, went all the way to the shootout – part of that verdict is due to an almost 2-to-1 shots advantage in favor of their opponents.
HOT AT THE RIGHT TIME: When Granite City came out of its 2-1 shootout loss to the Bulls on Nov. 18, they were sitting at 9-2-5 for the season – their 3-2 win the following night kicked off a hot streak that still hasn’t yet slowed down. Since that shootout loss, the Lumberjacks have gone 15-3-1, including a 7-0 record in games decided by more than a pair of goals.