MASON CITY, Iowa – Elimination games in the North Iowa Ice Arena haven’t been terribly common over the North Iowa Bulls’ eight-year history. Only three NA3HL playoff elimination games have ever been played in Mason City, but the Bulls had won all of them.
Make it four-for-four after Sunday evening. The Bulls got three straight before Peyton Hart’s third-period tally on a rebound in front of the net, and North Iowa knocked the Rochester Grizzlies out of the Fraser Cup playoffs with a 4-1 win in Game 3 of the West Division semifinals.
The first period was an active one, but neither team was able to generate any offense, despite combining for 23 shots on net. Finally, the Bulls broke through three minutes into the second period, when Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) grabbed the puck away from a Rochester player at the Grizzlies goal line and pivoted to sweep it into the net underneath Nick Bucklin.
“We have at least five or six guys who aren’t going to be back next year,” said Studioso. “This one could have been their last game, so we collectively came together and we played well as a team.”
A turnover at center gave North Iowa its next chance – Nick Johnson (New Richmond, Wis./Team Wisconsin) grabbed the loose puck next to the center dot and weaved it through the traffic to the middle of the slot. Johnson’s shot beat Bucklin and found its way to the upper half of the net for a 2-0 lead, 5:38 into the second.
Another turnover in the Rochester zone set up the goal that gave the Bulls total control of the game. Studioso picked the puck away from a Grizzlies defender and skated up the left-wing boards. Looking to shoot the puck, the third-year Bull found Jimmy McDermott (Dubuque, Iowa/Wisconsin Whalers) waiting on the back post – Studioso got Bucklin to commit before sliding the puck over for the tap-in at 12:15 of the third.
Hart’s goal came after Casey Mignone called Bucklin to the bench with five minutes to go in the 3-0 contest. That tally dropped the Bulls’ lead to 3-1 with 4:10 remaining, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to get another goal on the board. Ivan Bogach (Brooklyn, N.Y./North Iowa Bulls) tossed one into the empty net from in front of the Bulls’ bench with 39 seconds to play, sealing the three-goal win for North Iowa.
Dysen Skinner (Billings, Mont./Sioux Falls Jr. Stampede 18U) came up large for the Bulls in the win, making 31 saves and helping his team advance to its eighth straight division final. Bucklin was tagged with the loss despite making 26 saves in a polished and intense game by both sides. Only one penalty was called in the game, a head-contact minor against McDermott in the first.
An upset on the other side of the bracket changed the complexion of the West Division championship series, and allowed the Bulls a potential extra home game. The Alexandria Blizzard upset top-seeded Granite City in their division semifinal, giving North Iowa home-ice advantage in the chase for a Fraser Cup tournament berth. North Iowa will be seeking its sixth berth in the Fraser Cup tournament in eight seasons.
The opening game of the series is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday night at the North Iowa Ice Arena. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr. To purchase advance tickets to Friday night’s Game 1, click here.
Rochester 0 0 1 – 1
North Iowa 0 2 2 – 4
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-McDermott Nio (head contact-minor), 7:46.
2nd Period-1, North Iowa, Studioso 1 3:01. 2, North Iowa, Johnson 2 5:38. Penalties-No Penalties
3rd Period-3, North Iowa, McDermott 1 (Studioso), 12:15. 4, Rochester, Hart 1 15:50. 5, North Iowa, McDermott 2 (Blackowiak, Bogach), 19:21 (EN). Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Rochester 13-10-9-32. North Iowa 10-11-9-30.
Power Play Opportunities-Rochester 0 / 1; North Iowa 0 / 0.
Goalies-Rochester, Bucklin (29 shots-26 saves). North Iowa, Skinner (32 shots-31 saves).
Linesmen-Kris Delaney, Cam Dykstra.