Weekend Preview: North Iowa Bulls at Wisconsin Whalers

Bulls Weekly 2-23-17

THURSDAY, FEB. 23, 7:30 P.M., OREGON ICE ARENA (OREGON, WIS.)
FRIDAY, FEB. 24, 7:30 P.M., OREGON ICE ARENA (OREGON, WIS.)

NORTH IOWA BULLS (30-8-2, 62 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ WISCONSIN WHALERS (16-18-4, 36 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)

 

IN A NUTSHELL: The final North Iowa road trip of the 2016-17 regular season ends with a rare Thursday-Friday set in Wisconsin.

ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 18-2-1 (three of this year’s four meetings have been decided by four goals or more).

 

LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: Even the last-place team in the West Division has been at or near .500 for the entire season – right now, that team is the Willmar WarHawks, and the Bulls got out of their first-ever visit to the Willmar Civic Center with three of a possible four points. The flow of Friday’s game was an odd one – North Iowa led for more than 26 minutes against the WarHawks and never trailed, but still lost 4-3 in overtime. Tyler Bump, Josh Arnold and Lucas McKinnon all tallied goals, but the Bulls were never able to add an insurance goal, and gave up five unanswered shots in overtime. Wyatt Toll’s goal 34 seconds into the extra session ended the contest. After going down two goals just 4:46 into the second period of Saturday’s game, Todd Sanden’s team decided enough was enough – they won the grudge match 6-2 thanks to six unanswered goals, including three in a four-minute span in the second period. Connor Clemons finished that second period with a hat trick, and only a Braxton Collins goal at the 7:12 mark of the period kept Clemons’s hat trick from going natural.

NEXT HOME GAME: The Bulls are on the road until Friday, Mar. 3 and Saturday, Mar. 4 as the St. Louis Jr. Blues visit “The Barn” to start a six-game homestand. For information on all upcoming Bulls promotions, click the “Game Day Fun” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or 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.

 

GAME NOTES

HOT ICE: It will be interesting to see what kind of tone will be set when the Central Division rivals meet up again in what may be their final meetings of the 2016-17 season. The last time the two got together was in Mason City on Jan. 14 – North Iowa won that game 6-1, but things got heated in the third period with 204 penalty minutes handed out in just the final 20 minutes. Nine players were either ejected from the game in the final 7:25, or received misconduct penalties that forced them off the ice for the remainder  of the night.

FEBRUARY FORCE: The Whalers have had a lot to celebrate in the month of February – they’ll come into this weekend having won five straight games, and this week’s awards broke a stretch of three straight Whalers on the Bauer Hockey NA3HL Central Division Star of the Week Award list. The first was goaltender Jacob Hough, who landed on the award list on Feb. 1 after a shutout victory over Chicago. Fellow netminder Max McConnell won it the next week thanks to his two wins over Breezy Point, and a four-goal showing against Chicago two weeks ago earned Ben Ratner the last of those three divisional Star of the Week awards.

TOMMIES ON TOP: Speaking of award-winners, a North Iowa alumnus landed at the top of the Minnesota Conference’s awards list this past week as the league’s Men’s Hockey Athlete of the Week. Johnny Panvica tallied three points in a weekend sweep of St. Olaf last weekend to push St. Thomas to a MIAC championship. His goal with 1.4 seconds left on the clock in overtime on Friday clinched the first of those two wins. NA3HL single-season goal-scoring record-holder Brett Gravelle, meanwhile, tallied a goal in Saturday’s game that sealed the conference title.

ROLLING A SIX: Ratner has been atop the scoring list for the Whalers for much of the season, but he now has company – linemate Austin Lewis has surged into a tie for the team points lead thanks to an impressive six-game stretch. Since Jan. 22, Lewis has tallied 15 points, including seven goals. He has three assists, but no goals, in his four appearances against the Bulls this season. Six is also the number of Wisconsin points behind La Crosse in the division standings, though Tom McDermott’s squad does have three games in hand and seven total remaining home games.

WELCOME HOME YOU: Home-ice advantage is always important, but in Wisconsin’s case, the numbers provide some pretty convincing evidence. The Whalers have won four straight home games, haven’t lost a division game at home since Dec. 10, and are an impressive 11-5-0 at home this year. The home power-play mark of 26.7 percent is just outside the league’s top 10, and only Long Beach and Alexandria have scored shorthanded goals more frequently on home ice than the Whalers (one per 2.29 games). They are, however, prone to giving up shorthanded goals as well (seven allowed in 16 home games), and they have not finished games well (-17 goal margin in the third period). At home, they’re 10-3-0 this season with a tie game or better after the first period, 11-2-0 when tied or leading after two periods, and 9-2-0 in games decided by one or two goals.

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