MASON CITY, Iowa – An early push out of the opening faceoff and a couple of late-period goals were enough Sunday night to send the North Iowa Bulls to a 4-2 win over the Granite City Lumberjacks in a decisive Game 3 of the NA3HL Western Division finals, and the second overall seed at next week's 3HL Silver Cup championship tournament. Following a frustrating 3-2 loss Saturday night in Minnesota, Todd Sanden's team wasted no time getting on the board in the clincher, leading wire-to-wire. The opening goal came on the opening shift of the night, with Joe Burgmeier (Mason City, IA) cranking in a shot on the doorstep from a centering feed at the end wall just 29 seconds into the contest. Defenseman Robert Click (Stillwater, MN) got himself into the scoring column barely two minutes later, scoring his first goal in a Bulls uniform on a half-speed slap shot from the right point that was deflected into the net by 'Jacks defenseman Sam Zwiener at 2:34 of the period. Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, MN) sent the home crowd into the first intermission on its feet with a spinning shot just above the hash marks that beat Jesse Garcia with a second left on the North Iowa Ice Arena clock. That goal would spell the end of Garcia's night after just 20 minutes of play.
Tanner Skaja gave the visitors a much-needed lift at the 5:32 mark of the second period, taking a long pass from the left wing and using a nifty deke to set up a backhand goal. The two-goal margin would hold steady until the 19:07 mark of the second period, when the gap returned to three goals on Jack Stang's (Mendota Heights, MN) centering pass to Ryan Durant (Waupun, WI), who zapped a low-slot one-timer past Kendall Meyer to build a 4-1 lead at the final break.
Chris Amsden (St. Peter, MN) turned away 10 of the 11 Lumberjacks shots in the final period, with the only miss coming on a goal with the opposing team's net sitting empty. Just like the previous night, a 6-on-5 opportunity paid off for the visitors as Travis Kothenbuetel poked in the last of a series of rebounds to poke the Bulls' lead back to 4-2 with 1:43 left in the game. A slew-footing penalty on Granite City's Tyler Mros sealed the outcome and helped to send almost 1,400 Bulls fans home from the North Iowa Ice Arena with a victory one last time for the season.
The win means North Iowa will take the second seed into the Silver Cup tournament, and Granite City drops into the automatic sixth-seed position as the tournament's wild card. Ironically, the Bulls' win means the teams will play yet again Thursday night at 8 p.m. in the Silver Cup opener for both teams. The Silver Cup tournament will be played at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois.