Bulls Beat La Crosse 3-2, Reach Fifth Straight Silver Cup

Post Game Report 3-25

La CROSSE, Wis. – North Iowa didn’t capitalize on much when it came to power-play chances Saturday night in Game 2 of the NA3HL Central Division playoff finals, but when the Bulls did convert, they came up big. Mitch Dolter‘s (Faribault, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s) tip at the net with 6:53 to go gave the Bulls the game-winner on their fifth power play of the night in a see-saw 3-2 contest. With the win, the Bulls take the best-of-three series 2 games to 0 and move on to the Silver Cup championship tournament for the fifth year in a row.

La Crosse’s Brendan Elliott saved the fans at the Green Island Ice Arena from a scoreless first period, with a bit of unintended help from Braxton Collins (Eau Claire, Wis./Coulee Region Chill). His high-sticking infraction with 1:03 remaining in the first period sent the Freeze onto their first man-advantage of the night, and Elliott’s pump-fake at the right point gave him the look he needed to blast one past Drew Scites (Plymouth, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) and put the home team up 1-0 going to the second period.

The Freeze lost the lead in the second period, and also lost one of their top forwards. Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) was ejected with 10:06 left in the second period following a violent check in the Freeze zone against La Crosse’s Lukas Motloch, who was helped off the ice several minutes after the hit.

That play set up a five-minute penalty-kill, on which Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./Dallas Stars Elite) sent a stretch pass up the left-wing wall that hit Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) in stride in front of the North Iowa bench. Clemons gained a step on his defender and ran the puck in past Andrew Wagner with 8:07 remaining in the period.

The action heated up significantly in the third period, with the Bulls crowd erupting first. Collins’s long shot from the top of the slot caught Clemons off the post, and Clemons re-directed the puck into the back of the net just 3:59 into the third period for the lead. That goal wouldn’t stand on its own, though – with the North Iowa defense shifting into lockdown, Donny Schultz managed to sneak one past Scites on a wraparound play with 9:49 to go.

Enter Jake Joyaux (Bloomingdale, Ill./Chicago Blues), whose first-ever junior goal on Friday night with the extra man proved to be the winner. Dylan Goggin’s interference minor at 11:50 of the third period allowed North Iowa one final chance, and Joyaux’s shot from above the right face-off dot caught Dolter in front, who deflected in the eventual game-winner. Several chances in the final 49 seconds with Wagner out of the net came up short, and the Freeze came up a bit short in a bid to extend their season at least one extra day.

“It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to the team,” said Scites. “It’s my first Silver Cup appearance and it means a lot to the guys, being there again where we should be.”

Wagner made North Iowa work for its 39th win of the year, though, stopping 39 of the Bulls’ 42 shots in the game. Scites picked up his ninth win in his last 10 chances, stopping 25 of the Freeze’s 27 chances in his first game back in La Crosse since his Bulls debut on Jan. 7. Clemons adds this game to his seven multi-goal outings this season, three of which came in a single weekend at Chicago back in October.

The Bulls’ seed, opponents and game times are still very much up in the air for the Silver Cup tournament, with four Game 3s across the NA3HL playoff landscape on Sunday. All eight Silver Cup qualifiers will play at least three games in Romeoville, Illinois, starting on Wednesday. All Bulls games at the Silver Cup tournament will be streamed live on HockeyTV, with Austin Draude on the call. Due to league streaming restrictions, Silver Cup games will not be audio-streamed on Mixlr.