SATURDAY, NOV. 26 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SUNDAY, NOV. 27 – 3:00 P.M., GREEN ISLAND ICE ARENA (La CROSSE, WIS.)
The Morning Skate 11-26
NORTH IOWA BULLS (17-3-0, 34 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. La CROSSE FREEZE (7-9-1, 15 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa returns from the Thanksgiving holiday in hopes of extending an already-sizable lead over second-place La Crosse in the Central Division standings.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 12-0-0 (total scoring margin in favor of North Iowa in this year’s two meetings: 13-3).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: One of the great winning streaks in Bulls history came to a close Saturday night after a close call on Friday against the Granite City Lumberjacks – Friday’s game featured an early first-period goal from Sean Mallonee and a quick response from Owen Sikich, but after that it took until the third round of a shootout for Mike Lyons to ripple the twine for the clincher in the Bulls’ 15th win in a row. North Iowa’s luck finally ran out on Saturday night, though – Brendan Studioso ripped home a pair of go-ahead goals for the visitors, including the opener at 1:23 of the first period, but North Iowa led for a grand total of 4 minutes and 38 seconds in a 3-2 loss. Jordan Olson’s backdoor one-timer with 2:34 left in the second period proved to be the Bulls’ undoing, as was an 0-for-3 stretch on the power play in the final 20 minutes.
THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: This Thanksgiving weekend features an uncommon Saturday-Sunday setup for the Bulls’ home-and-home against the La Crosse Freeze. Saturday’s game will feature 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 Saturday’s game – 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 Sunday’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.
WE’RE (NO LONGER) GOING STREAKING: Last Saturday’s loss to Granite City brought an end to one of the great winning streaks in the Bulls’ five-plus-year history. The Bulls won 15 games in a row, sweeping through the entire month of October and the majority of the month of November as well. Last year’s epic 27-game winning streak was the longest streak in NA3HL history, and the longest regular-season winning streak in team history – including the 2013 Silver Cup postseason and USA Hockey national tournament, Todd Sanden’s team won 32 straight games from Mar. 1 to Nov. 25, 2013.
STANDING TALL: Despite giving up three points to Granite City in last weekend’s non-divisional split in Sauk Rapids, the Bulls did land a Bauer Hockey NA3HL Central Division Star of the Week honor this week. Josh Benson stopped the Lumberjacks cold in Friday’s 2-1 shootout win, keeping 30 of Granite City’s 31 chances out of the net and then stopping all three shots he faced in the shootout. La Crosse’s Daniel Toycen wasn’t completely forgotten though, earning the division’s 2nd Star award. Benson is the seventh North Iowa player to earn the division’s Star of the Week honor, but the team’s first goalie of the year to do so.
GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL: Simply scoring on the Bulls this season has been a difficult proposition – both Benson and Brady Meyers are in the top-six of the 3HL’s goaltending leaderboard, with a combined 12 wins and .931 save percentage. The Metro Jets feature prominently on that list as well, with Andrew Kormos and Jake Gwillim each holding top-five goals-against averages for the season. Binghamton Jr. Senators goalies Steven Schmitt and Salvatore Lauretta currently hold the No. 7 and No. 8 spots on that list.
LONELY AT THE TOP: At 17-3-0, the Bulls are not only at the top of the Central Division heap, they’re the only team in the division on the right side of par – at 7-9-1, the Freeze come in with a second-place points percentage of .441. The Central Division is the only one of the NA3HL’s eight divisions with just one winning team – three divisions each boast five teams playing at the .500 mark or better heading out of Thanksgiving, and two others still have four teams with records at or above .500.
LOCK IT IN: The last piece of the Bulls’ regular-season schedule will be released on Wednesday, as the NA3HL announces its pairings for its winter showcase in Blaine, Minn. from Dec. 16-18. Starting on Monday, the league standings will be frozen just long enough for the league office to build the schedule for the three-day event, which will count toward each team’s 47-game regular-season standings.
GET IN EARLY: North Iowa’s loss on Saturday was the first time this season (out of 14 games) they have lost after scoring first – La Crosse will be pushing for an early goal in both games this weekend, with the 1-0 lead in only four of their 17 outings so far. While the third period has been far more friendly to the Freeze (+6 goals, +17 shots), La Crosse has been behind on both counts in the first period and second period of its games this season. The Freeze are unbeaten when leading after 20 minutes and 40 minutes, but are just 2-9-1 when heading into the final period with a deficit.
DEFENDING HOME ICE: The 15-game winning streak is gone, but the Bulls still have a chance to defend a nice streak on home ice. All nine games in the North Iowa Ice Arena this year have ended with a win, and dating back to last season, the Bulls have won 17 straight in their home building. That stands as the league’s longest active home winning streak, with the Metro Jets close behind at 15 games.