The Morning Skate 2-10
FRIDAY, FEB. 10 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATURDAY, FEB. 11 – 7:05 P.M., ROCHESTER RECREATION CENTER (ROCHESTER, MINN.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (27-8-1, 55 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. ROCHESTER ICE HAWKS (7-30-1, 15 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The Ice Hawks have only these two more chances to lock up their first-ever win against North Iowa before the end of the regular season.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 12-0-0 (Rochester’s 4-3 loss against North Iowa on Dec. 31 is the closest game in series history).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: Granite City cemented its status as a team to watch in the NA3HL race with a weekend sweep in “The Barn,” clinching seven of a possible eight standings points in the season series. North Iowa got out to a hot start on Friday night, scoring the first two goals in less than nine minutes before Granite City got on a tear with five straight goals. Tyler Bump and Braden Altena traded tallies to end the second – Mike Lyons and Connor Clemons would each score third-period goals but the lead would never shrink to less than two in a 7-5 final. On Saturday, Braxton Collins scored his first goal as a Bull just 22 seconds in, but the Lumberjacks stayed with their hosts step-for-step heading into the third. That’s when Andrej Jamnicky took over, with a natural hat trick to push the Lumberjacks ahead for good in a 5-2 victory.
THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: At this Friday’s home game, he Bulls will continue raffling off their jerseys from last week’s My Happy Place promotion.
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 for no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.
WE DIDN’T COPY AND PASTE, WE PROMISE: With just two goals allowed last weekend, Josh Benson was again named the NAHL’s Bauer Hockey Midwest Division Star of the Week early this past week. The Stillwater, Minn. native earned his second divisional Star of the Week honor in a three-week span after pushing aside 73 of the 75 shots he saw in a three-game road sweep of the Kenai River Brown Bears. His 1-0 shutout last Friday night pushed him to three goose-eggs on the year, and he’ll head into this Friday’s contest a winner of seven straight decisions in his last eight appearances.
OH THANK HEAVEN: Seven North Iowa players officially received calls to the NA3HL’s Top Prospects Tournament this past week, in addition to Bulls head coach Todd Sanden. Goaltender Brady Meyers, defenseman Mike Lyons, and forwards Mitch Dolter and Josh Arnold will each play on the Gold team, consisting of players picked from Central and Coastal Division teams. Sanden will also coach the squad. The NA3HL Select Red team will pluck three forwards out of practice for a few days – Brendan Studioso, Sean Mallonee and Connor Clemons will each join the 120-player field at the USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich. on the final two days of the month.
ARE WE OUT OF THE WOODS YET: North Iowa’s playoff spot and Central Division championship are secure, but Rochester still has a little work to do to sew up their spot in the Silver Cup playoffs. With all tiebreakers in hand, the Ice Hawks’ magic number to clinch a playoff spot is down to 10 points – with 11 games to go and just three points, the best finish Chicago could hope for is 25 points. Every point that the Ice Hawks pick up in the standings down the stretch, and every point available that the Bulldogs don’t pick up, trims that magic number.
MAKING HISTORY: The losses to Granite City last weekend were historic, in ways the Bulls were hoping they wouldn’t be. North Iowa put up 18 shots in their Saturday night loss, the second-lowest total in a game in team history. A win over the Ice Hawks on Friday would snap a three-game losing skid at home, the first in North Iowa Bulls history. Even back-to-back regulation home losses were a first, save for the first two home games in Bulls history against Peoria and Granite City in 2011.
NOT A SPECIALTY: While North Iowa’s special teams have still been clicking for the most part this year, Rochester remains near the bottom of the league’s power-play leaderboards. Going into the final five weekends of the season, the Ice Hawks have just a 7.6-percent success rate on the man-advantage, better than only Chicago in the 3HL. On the road, that number is slightly better, but still a paltry 9.2 percent, third from the bottom. North Iowa’s power play at home is ninth in the league at 28.8 percent, and sixth on the road at 28.6 percent – that balance has allowed the Bulls to remain in the top-five on the overall power-play leaderboard. The Ice Hawks are at least in the top 30 on the penalty-kill at home, but their hosts on Friday are downright stingy – only Alexandria has a better home mark on the penalty-kill than North Iowa’s 92.9-percent rate.
JUST SHOOT ME: One glowing statistical note for North Iowa’s Friday visitors is their 5-0-0 mark when out-shooting opponents. That hasn’t happened often, though – the Ice Hawks are near the bottom of the league with just 24 shots a game. The Bulls were out-shot by Granite City last Saturday night, only the second time they’ve done so this year (and their record in those games is 0-2-0). Despite that, though, Todd Sanden’s team has been one of the most efficient machines in the 3HL, churning out 43 shots a game and allowing less than 26 tries a night – both are top-7 marks in the league.
THE ULTIMATE GOAL: The streak to watch this weekend is that of Connor Clemons – the Savage, Minn. native is the only player in the league with an active five-game goal-scoring streak heading into this weekend. He’ll have to get extra-hot to catch the league’s best marks for this season – Missoula’s Misha Akatnov holds the mark for the longest goal-scoring streak this year with a dozen straight games, and league leader Martins Vitolins from Long Beach is right behind at 11 straight before the Christmas break.