MASON CITY, Iowa – With three games left in the regular season, the North Iowa Bulls entered Saturday’s North American Hockey League contest in checkmate – not captured, but with no moves left to make. The Bulls’ Robertson Cup playoff elimination number stood at just two points, but with the two teams above them in the Central Division standings facing off next weekend, no path remains for North Iowa to overtake both teams and claim a postseason berth.
They could play the spoiler on Saturday, though, and they almost did.
The Bismarck Bobcats held on for a 2-1 win on Friday night in the most heated chapter yet of the budding rivalry, with the teams coming together for a full-line brouhaha late in the second period, and another late scrape in the third period.
Goals, however, were harder to come by – North Iowa fired off the first seven shots of the game in the first six minutes, prompting a Bismarck timeout before the Bulls ended the first period with a 17-9 shots-on-goal advantage. One of those nine belonged to Nico Chmelevski, who walked the puck in front of the net before backhanding it under the crossbar and over Hunter Garvey’s (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) shoulders for a 1-0 Bobcat lead with 5:27 left in the first period.
The second period yielded more scoring chances for Bismarck, with a 12-5 shots margin in the middle 20 minutes, but the best scoring chance may have come on a penalty shot – their second in as many nights – from Owen Michaels with 2:57 left. He and Garvey would have to be separated after the shot, and the two factions mixed it up as they stepped back onto the ice to restart play. When the dust settled, three North Iowa players had been ejected and two Bismarck players had picked up 10-minute misconducts before returning to the game in the third period.
The scoring picked up in that third period, thanks in part to a boarding penalty to Brady Egan with 11:51 remaining – that penalty put North Iowa on its third and final power play of the night. The Bulls took advantage with a shot from Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) at the left-wing faceoff dot that sneaked past Oskar Spinnars Nordin just inside the post, tying the game with 10:46 to go.
The tie would last three minutes – Jon Ziskie’s low shot from the top of the slot hit the back of the net with 7:46 remaining, and North Iowa would not find a second game-tying marker.
Spinnars Nordin finishes his season series with North Iowa at 9-1, making 30 saves on 31 North Iowa shots, while Garvey made 32 saves in the loss. After Bismarck’s special-teams success on Friday, it was North Iowa who enjoyed the kudos, with a perfect 6-for-6 penalty kill in addition to the 1-for-3 mark on the man-advantage.
“It’s been a rough second half of the season. We’ve been playing well a lot of the time, but with bad bounces or something like that, it doesn’t go our way,” said Garvey. “We stood up for each other, and that’s a great thing, but if we had a little more luck, we’d have had a couple more goals.”
Mesic extended his team-best scoring total to 47 points, with two games remaining on the 2021-22 calendar and North Iowa mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Bismarck now sits one point back of the fourth-place Minot Minotauros, who were swept by the St. Cloud Norsemen this weekend, though the Minotauros have the tiebreaker in that race.
The first of those two remaining games will be played at the Mason City Arena, with Friday’s opening puck drop set for 7:30 p.m. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
Friday’s game will feature a postgame jersey auction and postgame skate, with a mix of home whites and navy blue away jerseys to be auctioned off following the game. Fans can take possession of those jerseys following the season. To purchase advance tickets to Friday’s game or any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Bismarck 1 0 1 – 2
North Iowa 0 0 1 – 1
1st Period-1, Bismarck, Chmelevski 8 (Michaels, Pietila), 14:33. Penalties-Potter Nio (tripping-minor), 9:15; Pietila Bis (interference-minor), 19:32.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Domina Nio (holding-minor), 4:55; Taylor Bis (roughing-minor), 10:18; Stacey Nio (roughing-minor), 10:18; Michaels Bis (fighting-major, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 17:03; Pietila Bis (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 17:03; Mesic Nio (aggressor-gm), 17:03; Potter Nio (leaving bench-gm), 17:03; Stacey Nio (aggressor-gm), 17:03; VanRooyan Bis (holding-minor), 17:23.
3rd Period-2, North Iowa, Mesic 17 (Mexico, Rapalje), 9:14 (PP). 3, Bismarck, Ziskie 8 12:14. Penalties-Egan Bis (boarding-minor), 8:09; Phelan Nio (tripping-minor), 15:04; Mesic Nio (cross checking-minor), 17:47; Egan Bis (roughing-minor), 19:46; LaRusso Nio (slashing-minor), 19:46; Mesic Nio (roughing-minor), 19:46.
Shots on Goal-Bismarck 9-12-13-34. North Iowa 17-9-5-31.
Power Play Opportunities-Bismarck 0 / 6; North Iowa 1 / 3.
Goalies-Bismarck, Spinnars Nordin 19-10-0-2 (31 shots-30 saves). North Iowa, Garvey 15-17-2-5 (34 shots-32 saves).
Linesmen-Reilly Hickey, Dylan Sater.