The Morning Skate 12-10
SATURDAY, DEC. 10, 7:00 P.M., OREGON ICE ARENA (OREGON, WIS.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (21-3-0, 42 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ WISCONSIN WHALERS (6-12-4, 16 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls will look to finish off divisional play for the season with a road win and a perfect record against the Central Division in the early portion of the year.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 16-2-1 (last outing between the Bulls & Whalers: Oct. 8, Bulls win 6-5 in overtime).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: North Iowa’s winning streak is at four games after its weekend sweep last week against the newly-christened New Ulm Steel. The Bulls got a couple of goals from Sean Mallonee in a 7-4 win on Friday night before Mallonee left the ice early in the third period. The opening two goals came in a 32-second span in the first period, with the fans unleashing a barrage of their own after the first goal in the form of stuffed animals for the Bulls’ annual Teddy Bear Toss. Goals from Mitch Dolter and Josh Arnold in the first 3:05 of the second period built the lead to 4-0 and the final 20 minutes began with the home team in control by a 7-2 tally. On Saturday, the Bulls went on the road to take a 5-2 win away from the Steel, firing 19 shots at the New Ulm net and burying four goals in the middle stanza – a two-goal rush from Arnold and Lucas McKinnon in the first 3:22 of the period gave North Iowa the lead it wouldn’t relinquish, plus a little bit of insurance – McKinnon’s goal would eventually stand as the game-winner. The Bulls buried a pair of power-play tallies, and earned another one on a 6-on-5 thanks to a delayed New Ulm penalty.
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.
DON’T SCARE ME LIKE THAT: Sean Mallonee’s two goals on Friday turned out to be a footnote to his weekend – Mallonee left the game early in the third period after taking a skate to the neck following a faceoff in the New Ulm zone. He suffered a severe laceration and was transported to a Mason City hospital, undergoing non-emergency surgery immediately following the contest. He was released from the hospital in time to see his teammates finish their sweep in Minnesota the following night, but with a three-to-four-week recovery period, the 2016 portion of his season may well be over.
EXTRA TIME: The Whalers and Bulls haven’t met since Oct. 8, but that game will go down as a highlight for North Iowa once the final chapter has been written in 2016-17 – after heading into the first intermission down 3-0, the Bulls battled back to tie the game on Jason Miner‘s goal at 12:05 of the second period and took their first lead just 13 seconds into the third period on a goal from Owen Larson. Ben Ratner’s empty-netter with 17 seconds remaining sent the game to overtime, but Larson would prove to be the hero, burying the Bulls’ third shot of the extra session at the 3:08 mark. The Bulls are 3-0 so far in games that go longer than the standard 60 minutes.
HARPOONING SOME HARDWARE: This week, North Iowa will face the reigning Bauer Hockey NA3HL Central Division Star of the Week, after Austin Lewis strung together an eight-point weekend against the La Crosse Freeze and the Chicago Bulldogs. Four of those points came in Sunday’s 13-1 win in Romeoville. These two teams have had a stranglehold on the Central Division Star of the Week Award this season, with the two teams combining to hold that honor each of the last 10 weeks in a row.
LAST NIGHT’S ACTION: It’ll be a short weekend for the Bulls, but not so much for the Whalers – they’ve seen a lot of La Crosse recently and last night the Freeze held Wisconsin in check late for a 4-3 victory. Jake Faulkner snapped a 2-all tie at the 3:45 mark of the third period but Hunter Dolan and Sam Dabrowski each posted goals before the halfway mark of the period to clinch the win. With 22 points separating the Bulls from the second-place Freeze, and nine points separating the Whalers from the fourth-place Ice Hawks, this matchup is shaping up to once again be a probable first-round playoff preview in the NA3HL’s Central Division.
RUTHLESS EFFICIENCY: Tonight’s game matches up two of the top power-play units in the entire NA3HL – while North Iowa’s power-play unit is ranked 11th in the league at just south of 27 percent, Wisconsin’s 28.4-percent mark is rated eighth in the league. The Bulls’ penalty-killing unit is even better, coming in at 89.8 percent (third in the league). Wisconsin’s 80-percent penalty-kill ranks just above the median of the league’s 48 teams.
NAILBITERS: Not every team that the Whalers have played this year is 22 points ahead in its division race (like North Iowa), but you can expect tonight’s game to be a battle – of the 22 games on Wisconsin’s schedule this year, 15 have been one- or two-goal affairs. The Whalers have gone 2-5 in the remaining games, while North Iowa comes in at 15-2 in games decided by three goals or more.