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Weekend Preview: NA3HL Showcase

The Morning Skate 12-16

FRIDAY, DEC. 16, 10:30 A.M., SCHWAN SUPER RINK (BLAINE, MINN.)

NORTH IOWA BULLS (22-3-0, 44 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. TEXAS Jr. BRAHMAS (19-2-0, 38 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)

 

SATURDAY, DEC. 17, 3:30 P.M., SCHWAN SUPER RINK (BLAINE, MINN.)

NORTH IOWA BULLS (22-3-0, 44 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. METRO JETS (25-0-0, 50 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)

 

SUNDAY, DEC. 18, 9:50 A.M., SCHWAN SUPER RINK (BLAINE, MINN.)

NORTH IOWA BULLS (22-3-0, 44 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. NEW ENGLAND STARS (15-2-6, 36 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)

 

IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa prepares for a weekend battle at the annual NA3HL Showcase against two division leaders and a current division runner-up.

SHOWCASE HISTORY: North Iowa is 13-5-0 in their previous five years at the NA3HL Showcase – the Bulls did not win any of their four games at the Showcase in their debut year, but have won 13 of the 14 they’ve played since. The Bulls are 2-0-1 against the Jets all-time, including last year’s Silver Cup national title game; North Iowa has never played the Texas Jr. Brahmas, or the New England Stars.

 

LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: The Bulls got out of Dodge for their final true road game before the break, and dodged some nasty winter weather on the way home following a 7-3 win on Saturday over the Wisconsin Whalers. The game was a veritable track meet, with a focus on the relay events – the Bulls handed the scoring baton to seven different players in the game, and had to play from behind twice. Carter Grobstick gave the Whalers the lead just 65 seconds into the game, but Lucas McKinnon tied the contest at the eight-minute mark of the opening period. 32 seconds after Nick Miller’s go-ahead goal in the second period, Logan Miller tallied the second equalizer and North Iowa began a six-goal march to its fifth straight win. The teams combined for 107 shots in the game, including 61 for the Bulls – R.J. Pluhar had to make 43 stops to pick up his sixth win of the year.

NEXT HOME GAME: The Bulls are away from the North Iowa Ice Arena until after Christmas – they’ll face off against the Rochester Ice Hawks on Friday, Dec. 30 to start their final weekend of hockey for 2016. North Iowa heads on the road the following night in hopes of ringing in the New Year with a win on the Ice Hawks’ home ice.

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.

 

GAME NOTES

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU: The call-ups keep coming for the Bulls, and this week’s call came on a very special day for one of Todd Sanden’s top defensemen. Steven Mordini earned the call to the Springfield Jr. Blues on Monday, sending him on the road to Illinois for his 19th birthday. Of the four Bulls’ call-ups this year, Mordini could be the third to earn more than a “cup of coffee” in the NAHL – Kohei Sato is the fourth-leading scorer on the Northeast Generals’ roster this year, and Josh Benson remains with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs two weeks after earning his call to the Tier II ranks.

DARE WE SAY “DYNASTY”: The Bulls’ last meeting with the Metro Jets was one that many North Iowa fans are still talking about – the Bulls wrapped up their 2015-16 campaign with their 50th win in NA3HL competition by beating the Jets 4-1 in the Silver Cup title game on April 3. Brett Gravelle capped his junior career with a hat trick, clinching the title with an empty-netter with 1:22 remaining in the final. To date, it’s still the last loss the Jets have suffered. David Chavis’s power-play goal directly off of the initial faceoff was Metro’s only goal of the contest.

YOU SPIN ME ROUND (LIKE A RECORD): The NA3HL’s one-year-old record for the longest winning streak is on the line at this weekend’s Showcase. In short: it is the Bulls’ record that’s on the line, it’s not the Bulls who are going for the latest record, but the Bulls can have a say in what team holds the record at the end of the weekend. If the Jets win their opening game on Friday, Saturday’s meeting between the Bulls and Jets would determine whether Justin Quenneville’s Metro team ties the record of 27 wins in a row. North Iowa won 27 straight regular-season games last year to set the mark (the Bulls won 32 straight in 2013, but five of those games were played against non-3HL competition in the USA Hockey national tournament, and several more were postseason wins).

NEW FACES, NEW PLACES: Two of the Bulls’ three opponents this weekend will be new entries on their schedule, but only one is a team that Todd Sanden and his coaching staff truly haven’t seen. The Texas Jr. Brahmas joined the Jets and Bulls at the Silver Cup championship tournament last year, but played in the opposite pool from the Bulls. They opened the tournament with a 7-0 loss to Metro. The New England Stars won 32 games last year as members of the NA3EHL, which merged into the league during the off-season.

MEET THE NEW BRAHMAS: The Texas team that will face the Bulls at the Showcase is noticeably different from the team they watched play at last year’s Silver Cup tournament. All of the top five scorers on the Jr. Brahmas roster are 3HL rookies, and the team has also swapped out its head coach. Topeka Roadrunners career scoring leader Michael Hill is the team’s first-year head coach, taking over for Al Rooney, who currently serves as an assistant coach for Texas and the NAHL’s Lone Star Brahmas. Most of the players on this year’s Jr. Brahmas roster were recruited to the team by Rooney.

MEET THE NEW JETS – SAME AS THE OLD JETS: The Metro team that the Bulls will see on Saturday afternoon looks very much the same as the team they saw in Romeoville a year ago – six of the top seven scorers on the Metro roster are back from last year’s Silver Cup runner-up team, and all six scored at least 19 points last year in a 40-5-2 regular season. Andrew Kormos is a new face to the Jets roster, coming in from the Belle Tire program last year, but Jake Gwillim has been around the junior hockey circuit awhile, playing 50 career games in the NAHL and USHL.

YOU’LL HAVE TO EARN IT: Don’t expect to see a lot of special-teams scoring when the Bulls face the Stars on Sunday morning – New England’s situational scoring has been a particularly stingy subject so far this season. The Stars rank near the bottom of the league on the power play, coming into the Showcase at 13.4 percent for the year with the extra man on the ice (41st of 48 teams). The penalty-kill, however, is an entirely different story, with an 85.2-percent mark that is ninth in the league. By comparison, Sunday’s chances on the man-advantage for North Iowa could be rather generous, though – both Metro and Texas rank among the league’s top five penalty-killing units, and the Bulls’ penalty-kill is fourth.

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