MASON CITY, Iowa – Early goals between the Alexandria Blizzard and North Iowa Bulls have been hard-fought this season. Coming into Friday night’s game at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, the teams had combined for just a pair of first-period markers in their past four meetings.
That meant a fast start for either team would only be amplified, and the Bulls got off to a loud start to their 2021 home schedule, rattling home two goals just 12 seconds apart in the opening stanza on the way to a 5-2 win over the Blizzard.
The win was doubly important to goaltender Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), whose 16 saves powered him to his 32nd win as a North Iowa Bull. The victory moves him past David Johnson and Chris Amsden into sole possession of second place on the team’s all-time wins list.
“It feels great,” said Babekuhl. “This is such a historic team, with so many big milestones and all of the championships. It’s just an honor to be up there with all of the great guys in such a great organization.”
Just 3:55 into the game, the Bulls exploded onto the board as Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) curled a pass around the back of his skates to Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.), who was coming by on his right side – his jam-in chance did not go, but Hayden Fox (Anchorage, Alaska/Team Alaska U18) was standing by to tap in the chance on the goal line for the opening tally.
Just 12 seconds later, Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) tossed a chance toward the net off of a faceoff in the Alexandria zone, and Brayden Uttech (Sun Prairie, Wis./Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings) was standing by to finish off the rebound to push the lead to 2-0.
The early goals finally came for North Iowa, but the early shot count was every bit as dominant as it was in the early goings of the games last weekend in Alexandria. The Bulls led 16-2 on the shot count in the opening period, and eventually pushed the margin to 24-3.
The third goal, however, was slow in coming. Max Savaloja’s (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.) shot from the right point pinballed to Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) in front of the net, who stuffed the puck past Joey Greilich for the three-goal lead.
North Iowa tacked on further in the final period, with back-to-back goals just 47 seconds apart. At 8:18 of the third period, as Wyatt Johnson worked to corral the puck in the faceoff circle to Greilich’s right, Isogai grabbed the loose puck and walked it in front of the net before moving to his backhand and beating Greilich underneath for a 4-0 lead.
At 9:05, Caleb Huffman (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA) whipped a shot toward the Blizzard net that caught Jack Campion’s (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong H.S.) stick at the bottom corner of the slot, and his redirect found the back of the net for a five-goal Bulls advantage.
“It was a big part of our game plan throughout the week, was to start the game on time,” said Campion. “We haven’t done that much lately. We can’t let them into the game – if we step on the gas, no one can touch us.”
The Bulls’ penalty kill met its match in the third period, though – near the end of a power play on Nick Mohs-Messerli’s (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) cross-checking infraction, Ben Tschida rolled a pass ahead to Logan Stellmach on a right-wing rush, and his tap to the net caught the stick of Cichosz, who ended up rebounding the net past his teammate for the first Alexandria marker with 5:04 to go.
Sean Kenny made his own luck, following a penalty to Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) with 2:07 to go. The game’s final goal saw Kenny juke left into the slot to beat a defender and deposit the puck into the top half of the net, trimming the Bulls’ final lead to three goals.
The tally extended a torrid run for Kenny, who has notched a point in four of his last five games. However, the victory extended North Iowa’s home winning streak to 14 straight against Alexandria and 13 in a row overall.
Greilich took the loss with 39 saves on 44 North Iowa shots, though the Blizzard power play’s late performance helped them come out 2-for-3 on the night. The Bulls missed on their only chance of the evening, a man-advantage that straddled the second and third periods. Greilich saw his record drop to 3-6 for the year, while Babekuhl picked up his ninth win in 11 decisions.
Campion and Isogai had a goal and an assist apiece in Friday’s game, while Uttech’s goal moves him into a tie with Nauss for the team scoring lead.
The Bulls moved to 13-4 on the season, while Alexandria slipped to 6-9-1, taking their fourth loss in five outings out of the extended break. North Iowa returns to home ice on Saturday to battle the Willmar WarHawks, who have started the new year with three straight wins and enter just a game shy of .500 for the year. The opening puck drop is slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Alexandria 0 0 2 – 2
North Iowa 2 1 2 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Uttech 7 (Isogai, Heffron), 3:58. 2, North Iowa, Fox 6 (Cichosz, Campion), 4:07. Penalties-Freeman Nio (tripping-minor), 1:35.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Freeman 9 (Savaloja), 16:04. Penalties-Blahosky Alx (tripping-minor), 19:07.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Isogai 9 (Wendorf), 8:18. 5, North Iowa, Campion 7 (Huffman, Mohs-Messerli), 9:05. 6, Alexandria, Stellmach 1 (Tschida, Johnson), 14:56 (PP). 7, Alexandria, Kenny 5 (Revering, Peterson), 18:39 (PP). Penalties-Mohs-Messerli Nio (cross checking-minor), 13:00; Nauss Nio (roughing-minor), 17:53.
Shots on Goal-Alexandria 2-7-9-18. North Iowa 16-15-13-44.
Power Play Opportunities-Alexandria 2 / 3; North Iowa 0 / 1.
Goalies-Alexandria, Greilich 3-6-0-0 (44 shots-39 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 9-2-0-0 (18 shots-16 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Ethan Fox.