BISMARCK, N.D. – With the Christmas break coming up next week, Friday and Saturday are the North Iowa Bulls’ final chances to earn a victory going into the holiday break and give themselves some momentum going to the second half of the season. That momentum will be all the more important in Saturday’s game after the Bismarck Bobcats’ big first period helped push them past North Iowa for a 5-3 win on Friday night at the V.F.W. Sports Center.
North Iowa picked up a pair of high-scoring wins over the Bobcats in their first two meetings early last month in Mason City, and scored early this time around as well – just 2:46 into the contest, a sharp-angle shot from Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA) snuck past Bismarck goaltender Oskar Spinnars Nordin, giving the Bulls the 1-0 lead on their very first shot of the night.
After notching seven of the game’s first nine shots, Bismarck made its move toward taking the lead – from below the goal line, Jake McLean found Patrick Johnson out on the doorstep for a tap-in to tie the game at the 8:47 mark of the first period.
Bismarck grabbed the lead and built on it in less than a minute’s time late in the period – Nico Shmelevski entered the zone and dropped a pass back for Eddie Shepler at the right point, and he snapped a shot past Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) with 3:03 remaining in the period to take the lead. Just 51 seconds later, Bismarck doubled its advantage when a North Iowa clearing attempt was left behind for Adam Pietila to put away for a 3-1 Bobcat lead.
The Bulls pulled back within one with 9:11 left in the second period, when Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Mason City Toros) gained control for the Bulls off of a faceoff in the Bismarck end – his pass went right to Tyler Braccini (Minneapolis, Minn./Minnesota Magicians), who snapped a shot past Spinnars Nordin to cut the lead to 3-2.
“It felt pretty good,” said Braccini. “I didn’t even know it went into the net. It really feels like home [here], especially fitting in with the guys at the billet house. The guys are really welcoming here in the locker room.”
The teams traded goals all the way through the third period, starting with Pietila’s goal at 3:22, just six seconds into a power play on a Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) interference call. Garvey was able to stop Michael Neumeier’s shot from the right point, but the rebound found its way to Pietila near the goal line, and he sneaked the rebound through to push the lead back to 4-2.
With 8:13 left, Vlasich’s pass from the corner found Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U AAA) at the edge of the slot, and his low wrister beat Spinnars Nordin to trim the lead back to 4-3. The Bulls would bring Garvey to the bench with 1:30 remaining, but Quinn Rudrud worked the puck around a defender coming into the North Iowa zone and deposited it into the empty net with 30 seconds remaining to seal the win for the hosts.
Pietila headlined the scoring with his two goals, while Neumeier, McLean and Ben Troumbly each had two assists for the Bobcats. North Iowa did not enjoy a multi-point outing, but Braccini and Campion earned their first points with North Iowa this season. Braccini’s goal was his first as a Bull after joining the team last week from the Minnesota Magicians, while Campion made his return to the Bulls’ score sheet after tallying 39 points for the team at the NA3HL level last season.
North Iowa also saw an incredible streak come to an end, with Dylan Gajewski (Woodhaven, Mich./Austin Bruins) going without a goal for the first time as a Bull. He joins Dominic Skrelja in the fall of 2017 as the only North Iowa Bulls to score at least one goal in all of their first four games with the team, and the only one to do it at the NAHL level.
Spinnars Nordin made 26 saves on 29 North Iowa shots, earning his first victory in American junior hockey after taking two losses for Bismarck earlier in the season. Garvey took the loss, making 26 saves of his own. The Bulls did not convert on their four power play chances, while the Bobcats went 1-for-3 on the man-advantage in the game.
“Coach (Todd Sanden) said we haven’t really played a full 60 (minutes) yet, so that’s really our goal Saturday,” said Braccini. “Tomorrow’s our Robertson Cup for this year, our last game of the year, so we’re going to play as hard as we can.”
The Bulls and Bobcats will conclude the first portion of their seasons Saturday night with a rematch at the V.F.W. Sports Center in Bismarck. The opening puck drops at 7:15 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
North Iowa returns to home ice on Saturday, January 1 against the Austin Bruins, with a postgame party skate on the schedule to ring in the new year. Tickets for that game, and all North Iowa home games, are on sale now – to purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 1 1 – 3
Bismarck 3 0 2 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Mexico 3 (Stacey, Morich), 2:46. 2, Bismarck, Johnson 9 (Mclean, Neumeier), 8:47. 3, Bismarck, Shepler 10 (Chmelevski, Mclean), 16:57. 4, Bismarck, Pietila 8 (Troumbly), 17:48. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-5, North Iowa, Braccini 2 (Campion), 10:49. Penalties-Sojka Bis (roughing-minor), 5:05; VanRooyan Bis (hooking-minor), 6:05.
3rd Period-6, Bismarck, Pietila 9 (Neumeier, Troumbly), 3:22 (PP). 7, North Iowa, Mesic 8 (Vlasich), 11:47. 8, Bismarck, Rudrud 11 (Ziskie), 19:30 (EN). Penalties-Vlasich Nio (interference-minor), 3:17; Morich Nio (holding-minor), 9:21; Johnson Bis (cross checking-minor), 9:27; VanRooyan Bis (interference-minor), 10:57; served by Morich Nio (too many men-minor), 11:28.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 8-14-7-29. Bismarck 15-7-9-31.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 4; Bismarck 1 / 3.
Goalies-North Iowa, Garvey 10-6-1-2 (30 shots-26 saves). Bismarck, Spinnars Nordin 1-1-0-1 (29 shots-26 saves).
Linesmen-Alex Schuhmacher, Eric Steele.