The Morning Skate 1-7
SATURDAY, JAN. 7 – 7:00 P.M., GREEN ISLAND ICE ARENA (La CROSSE, WIS.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (25-4-1, 51 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ La CROSSE FREEZE (11-15-2, 24 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: After winning back-to-back games against Rochester last week to end 2016, the Bulls look to get 2017 off with a bang against the second-place Freeze.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 14-0-0 (total scoring margin in favor of North Iowa in this year’s two meetings: 23-4).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: There may be no aspect of the Bulls’ repertoire that was as “on point” last week as their power play – Todd Sanden’s team went 6-for-9 on special teams last week, including a 4-for-4 Friday showing, in a sweep of the Rochester Ice Hawks. Three of the Bulls’ first four goals came on the power play in Friday night’s 8-1 win, and Josh Arnold and Mitch Dolter each picked up a pair of goals in the win. The home team in each game chased the other’s goalie early – Drew Schenkenberg left late in the second period on Friday, but Brady Meyers exited early in the second period Saturday at Rochester after making eight stops on 11 goals. R.J. Pluhar picked up the win in relief after the Bulls made a furious comeback in the second period, capped by Dolter’s eventual game-winner with 4:14 remaining in the second.
NEXT HOME GAME: The Bulls return home next weekend for a single game against the Wisconsin Whalers on Saturday night. It’s “YMCA Member Night” at the North Iowa Ice Arena, and one of only two home games for the Bulls this month. For more information, including a list of upcoming promotional nights, 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 weekend’s game at La Crosse, are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.
THAT’S A WINNER: Mitch Dolter has racked up three game-winning goals in his first year as a North Iowa Bulls forward, but it was his play against Rochester that finally netted him a coveted Bauer Hockey NA3HL Central Division Star of the Week award. The Faribault, Minn. native was one of two North Iowa players to net a pair of goals in last Friday’s win, but the one-timer goal Saturday off a Sean Mallonee pass to the doorstep was the most critical of the three, allowing the Bulls to stay unbeaten all-time against the Ice Hawks. It’s the ninth time this year that the Bulls have had a player named the Central Division’s Star of the Week.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: With the trade of Kristian Kause to the Louisiana Drillers and with Caylen Dyni’s departure from the team, the lineup has seen some shifting out of the Christmas break. German native Horka Sekesi got his first look in a Bulls uniform over the weekend, playing in both games. Also new on the roster for the Bulls is goaltender Drew Scites, who comes to the team from Prior Lake High School in Minnesota and was a high school teammate of Connor Clemons and former Bull Connor Bump. Scites hails from Plymouth, Minn. and played two games early this year for the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars.
THE CENTURY MARK: With three months to go in the 2016-17 campaign, Marshall Barnes has reached rare territory after hitting the 100-assist mark in his junior career on Saturday night. The triple-digit assist came on Tim Kuivinen’s tying goal with 6:31 to go in the second period. He has a bit of distance to cover before he reaches record territory for the Bulls, though – with 44 assists this year he’s just under halfway to Matt Kroska’s single-season record of 90 assists, and he’s just more than halfway to Kroska’s career record of 180 assists in a Bulls uniform. The good news for Barnes, though: as a ’97 birth year, there’s another season in the junior ranks for him if he wants it.
MAGIC NUMBERS: As the season continues and the wins continue to mount for the defending Central Division champs, the magic number is also continuing to shrink toward a fifth straight division title. The most points either La Crosse (28 games, 24 points) or Wisconsin (27 games, 22 points) could finish with is 62 points, putting the magic number to a division title for the Bulls at just 12 points. Since Saturday’s game is against one of those two teams, the magic number as it relates to the Freeze could drop sharply after this weekend. Wisconsin helped its own cause on Thursday with a 3-1 win over the Freeze, and the Whalers will play Saturday afternoon at home against Rochester.
FIRST BLOOD: Getting the first goal is always a big help in winning a hockey game, but it’s been an especially big factor for these two teams this year – the Bulls have landed a 1-0 lead in 21 of their 30 games this year, and have only given up the first goal in five games since their season-opening road trip. They’ve won 20 of those 21 games – while La Crosse’s record of getting that first goal hasn’t been quite as good (8 games out of 28), their record with that first goal has been outstanding (6-2-0).
PLAYING THE PERCENTAGES: The recent 6-of-9 run for the Bulls, and their nine power-play goals in their last three games, have rocketed the North Iowa special-teams numbers skyward. After the Bulls’ 3-1 loss to the Metro Jets at the NA3HL Showcase, their power-play mark stood at a highly respectable 26.7 percent – after going 9-for-their-last-16, the power-play mark is up four full percentage points, and their current 30.6-percent clip is good for fifth in the league.
WORLD HISTORY: The hockey community as a whole in Mason City has reason to celebrate this week, following the U.S. national team’s gold medal at the World Junior championships in Canada – the U.S. team’s head coach is Bob Motzko, who spent five seasons in Mason City from 1986-91 as the head coach of the USHL’s Huskies. Motzko also brought the city its first Junior A national championship in 1989 and was named the league’s Coach of the Year for his efforts. He’s currently in his 12th season as the head coach of the St. Cloud State Huskies.