The Morning Skate 3-3
FRIDAY, MAR. 3 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATURDAY, MAR. 4 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
ST. LOUIS Jr. BLUES (33-8-2, 68 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ NORTH IOWA BULLS (32-8-2, 66 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: The Bulls kick off a six-game homestand with a weekend against this year’s Midwest Division champions.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 11-5-0 (the pair split a weekend series in mid-September).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: North Iowa played an odd Thursday-Friday series last weekend against the Wisconsin Whalers, and Thursday’s game was a drubbing for the Bulls – Tyler Bump tallied a pair of goals in a 6-1 win that began with Sean Mallonee‘s opening goal just seven minutes into the contest. Max McConnell had his hands full over that weekend – North Iowa threw 58 shots at him in the opener, and sent 55 more his way in the grudge match the following night. Bump and Mallonee teamed up for the game-winner with just 58 seconds remaining in the extra session of a 2-1 overtime victory. Connor Boscaccy got the initial goal for the Whalers with 7:44 remaining in the first period before Bump knocked in the tying tally with 5:32 left before the second intermission.
THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: Friday’s game is Support Your School Night, with all students admitted to the game for just $3. The first 200 fans in the door will receive Central Division championship koozies, and 100 more will be tossed out during the game. Saturday’s game will see the debut of the team’s 2016-17 trading cards. For information on upcoming Bulls promotions, 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.
TORNADO WARNING: The Bulls and the Iowa State Cyclones ACHA Division III team will both get a March tune-up on Monday afternoon over the lunch hour – North Iowa will host ISU in a free exhibition contest from 1 to 3 p.m. at “The Barn.” The contest will help the Cyclones fill a three-week gap between their MACHA championship and the ACHA national tournament in Ohio in mid-March. A handful of former NA3HL players will be on the ice for ISU in the game. The game will not be broadcast on HockeyTV or Mixlr.
TOPS AT TOP PROSPECTS: Some of the top players at the NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament earlier this week will be on the ice this weekend in the “Madhouse in Mason City” – Jr. Blues forward Sam Maddox was one of only a trio of players to post five points in three slightly-abbreviated games in Plymouth, Michigan (and one of only two to post four goals). Right behind was Bulls forward Josh Arnold, who had a pair of goals and a pair of assists, for a total of four points. Four goalies in the event picked up a pair of wins, and that includes North Iowa netminder Brady Meyers – the Minnesota native left the ice on Tuesday with a 3.33 goals-against average and an .884 save percentage.
PLAYING FOR PRIDE: With both teams locked into their division championships there are only points and bragging rights to play for, but there are a couple of long streaks to maintain as well – North Iowa has locked in points in their last six games in a row, with only an overtime loss to Willmar spoiling the schedule in the last three weeks. St. Louis took a 6-3 loss to Nashville last Friday night, but has won 13 of their 15 games since the Christmas break. If the Silver Cup tournament began tonight (and the top team in each division also clinched a Silver Cup bid), St. Louis would be the fifth seed while North Iowa would come in seeded seventh. Another of those streaks is the Jr. Blues’ road winning streak – they’ve won five in a row away from Affton, dating back to New Year’s weekend.
HATS OFF: St. Louis forward Jack Hatton has made his case for some serious league hardware this season, and is right in the hunt to hit the 50-goal plateau for this season – going into the weekend he’s four goals short of 50 with four games remaining. That ranks him fifth in the league, but his 15 power-play goals is third in the 48-team circuit. He’s been far from the only potent presence on the Jr. Blues’ scoring lines this year, though – six of the top 20 rookie scorers in the league are currently wearing St. Louis sweaters. His seven goals against Chicago on Jan. 28, and the team’s 24 goals in the game, are both Tier III hockey records.
SPECIAL GROUPS: If the weekend set turns out the way the numbers predict, the Bulls and Jr. Blues will put on a special-teams clinic during these two games. St. Louis has the second-best power play in the league at 34.1 percent, with North Iowa close behind at a seventh-best 28 percent. The penalty-kill, though, is where the two squads really shine – St. Louis is a league-best 91.4 percent when down a man away from home (and their seven shorthanded goals are third in the league), while North Iowa has killed off visiting power-play chances with the same frequency. Overall, the Bulls are slightly ahead – their 87.6-percent mark is fourth in the league. The Jr. Blues are also one of the league’s most disciplined squads, at just 14.2 penalty minutes a night.
AND THEY’RE OFF: North Iowa simply cannot waste any time getting on the board in these two games – one of the Jr. Blues’ biggest strengths is its first-period play. They’ve allowed just 22 first-period goals this season (third-best in the league), and are outscoring opponents by an almost-5-1 margin in the opening 20 minutes. Their seven goals per game is tops in the league, but North Iowa’s six goals per game is fourth.
JUST SHOOT ME: St. Louis’s defense is also one of the league’s most potent – at 23.6 chances per game, only the unbeaten Metro Jets have allowed fewer shots per game than Chris Flaugher’s squad. Simply getting shots on net will be key in this one – the two teams have combined for just seven games in which they’ve been out-shot. Only one of those has ended in a victory.