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Weekend Preview: North Iowa Bulls at Granite City Lumberjacks

Morning Skate 11-18

FRIDAY, NOV. 18 – 7:30 P.M., ARMADILLO DECK RINK AT SPORTS ARENA EAST (SAUK RAPIDS, MINN.)
SATUR
DAY, NOV. 19 – 7:30 P.M., ARMADILLO DECK RINK AT SPORTS ARENA EAST (SAUK RAPIDS, MINN.)
 

NORTH IOWA BULLS (16-2-0, 32 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ GRANITE CITY LUMBERJACKS (9-2-4, 22 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)

 

IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls make a visit to Granite City in non-divisional play to face off against an old West Division nemesis.

ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 30-15-4 (Bulls won three of four games against Granite City last year).

 

LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: The Bulls had last weekend off from competition, their final full weekend away from the rink until Christmas. They’ll come into this weekend’s series against the Lumberjacks off of two of the stiffest tests they’ve faced this season – in their Friday night affair Nov. 4 against the Willmar WarHawks, a pair of power-play goals made the difference in a 5-3 win, including the insurance goal with under four minutes to play, on a high-slot snipe from Mike Lyons. The game was a 4-1 affair halfway through the second period before Alec Skar and Riley Tigrett slashed the lead to one heading to the third period. Brady Meyers shut down the WarHawks over the final 28 minutes of Friday’s game before shutting them out Saturday in a 2-0 victory – Mitch Dolter lit the lamp with 5:15 remaining in the first period, but that goal held up for the duration of the game as Meyers earned his second shutout as a Bull. The two victories brought the Bulls’ winning streak to 14 games heading into this weekend.

NEXT HOME GAME: Thanksgiving weekend will feature an uncommon Saturday-Sunday setup for the Bulls’ home-and-home against the La Crosse Freeze. Saturday’s game will be a home contest at the North Iowa Ice Arena, with a pet food drive to benefit the Humane Society of North Iowa. The Bulls’ first-ever Dachshund Dash will also be held at the first intermission of next Saturday’s game against the Freeze – for more info on both, 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 this Saturday’s game at Granite City, are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.

 

GAME NOTES

WE MISSED YOU, TOO: Games against West Division opponents are far less common now that the Bulls are no longer in the West Division, but this weekend’s series renews a rivalry that a divisional split simply won’t dim – the Bulls and Lumberjacks have long battled for supremacy in the NA3HL, meeting every single season in the playoffs or the Silver Cup tournament from 2012 to ’15. Every one of the last five Silver Cup titles has been won by either the Bulls (2013, ’14, ’16) or the Lumberjacks (2012, ’15) and each of the three playoff series between the two has decided a division championship and gone the maximum three games. The 49 games that North Iowa has played against Granite City is the most they have played against any one team in the NA3HL to date.

IN THE HISTORY BOOKS: The North Iowa/Granite City series has always been one of the NA3HL’s most intriguing, but it gets even more interesting when the series shifts to Sauk Rapids – the Bulls have actually come out of the Armadillo Deck Rink on the short end more than they’ve come out as the victor, with a 9-11-3 record on the Benton County Fairgrounds. The last time the two teams met featured a historic 1-0 ‘Jacks win over the Bulls on Jan. 29, the only time that a 3HL team has ever shut out Todd Sanden’s club. Granite City opened up its own history books last month with an Oct. 22 win over Peoria, as Brad Willner reeled in his 400th career victory as a junior head coach.

WELCOME BACK, JACK: Connor Clemons will make his return to the Bulls this week after a brief stint with the NAHL’s Aberdeen Wings. Clemons played in just one game for the Wings, a 3-1 win over the Minot Minotauros on Nov. 4. He did pick up a shot in the game, along with a first-period minor penalty. By coming back to the Bulls, Clemons returns to a roster where he has made a major impact, with 34 points (including 15 goals) in just 14 games.

THE CENTURY MARK: It’s a rare group in the NA3HL that can already say it’s scored 100 more goals than it’s allowed – in fact, that group has just two members. The Bulls are one of those teams, scoring a league-best 148 goals this season against just 40 goals allowed. The Binghamton Jr. Senators are the other team in the mix with 146 goals scored against just 42 allowed – of the top 15 goal-scorers in the league this season, eight play for either North Iowa or Binghamton.

FIRST DIVISION: With 12 games on the schedule this season against the West Division (including four against the Lumberjacks), the Bulls will be truly tested against their former division foes – of the five teams in the West, only Willmar (6-8-0) is below .500 after the first two months of the season. In the Central, second-place La Crosse stands at .500 (7-7-0), but the three teams behind them in the division standings have won a combined five games.

GRIND IT OUT: Of Granite City’s 15 games this season, almost half have ended with a one-goal margin, and in four of those games, Brad Willner’s team has come up short in the extra session. The Lumberjacks have also been tough to beat this season at home, and goals for either side have been difficult to come by – the ‘Jacks are 7-1-2 through 10 home games so far, and have allowed just 23 goals in those 10 games. Power-play goals will be hard to come by as well – Granite City has wiped out almost 86 percent of the special-teams situations against them, and at home, that mark is even better, at 87.5 percent on the penalty-kill.

20 MINUTES IN: The story of the game has been well-written for both teams after just one period of play – the Bulls’ first period has been their weakest in the goal-scoring column (amazingly, their 38 first-period goals is still second in the league), but they’ve allowed just 26 goals this season after the first intermission. The ‘Jacks will need to keep pace on the scoreboard in the opening stanza – all nine Granite City wins have come with a lead or a tied score at the end of the first period. Neither game that the Lumberjacks have trailed after the first period has ended with a win. As for the Bulls, they’ve won every one of the 11 games in which they’ve come out of the first period with a lead, and they’re 2-0-0 in games when the first-period score is tied.

HELP ME RHONDA: Marshall Barnes still has one of the league’s most impressive point streaks in hand heading into the weekend – Barnes has netted 41 points, including 28 assists, over a 14-game run with a point or better. That streak began on Sep. 30 against Chicago, and Barnes has not looked back – his 14 straight games with a helper is the second-longest active streak in the league behind only league scoring leader Martins Vitolins of Long Beach.

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