BISMARCK, N.D. – Turns out, Friday night was “Turn Back the Clock” Night at the V.F.W. Sports Center.
The uniforms were all current. So was the music. The fans’ dress was as contemporary as ever.
The style of play, though? Think of Gretzky, Neely and Bossy.
The North Iowa Bulls and Bismarck Bobcats combined for 16 goals on Friday night, with the Bobcats holding off their visitors for a 9-7 win in a North American Hockey League Central Division matchup. 25 total players finished the night with at least one point as the two offenses slugged it out, leaving some dents in the scoreboard – and each other.
North Iowa held the lead for just 35 seconds of the game, but set the pace early, with Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) finding Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) for a tap-in on a pass to the weak side just 3:52 into the game.
Quick responses were a theme all night for the Bobcats, and they got the first of several at 4:27 of the first, when Adam Pietila stuffed in Michael Neumeier’s shot from the right point to tie the game at 1-1.
The momentum slowly built for Bismarck through the rest of the first period, picking up their first lead of the night on a 3-on-1 at the halfway mark, when Nico Chmelevski found Quinn Rudrud to give the Bobcats the 2-1 advantage. With 5:15 left in the period, Drew Holt walked the puck out of the corner before facing and firing from just below the inside hashmarks to double the Bismarck lead.
Rapalje returned to the scoresheet with 2:08 left in the period, beating Oskar Spinnars Nordin with a one-timer to cut the lead to 3-2. Just 28 seconds later, Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis AAA Blues) raced the puck down the right wing and sniped it past Spinnars Nordin to put the Bulls back even with their hosts going to the intermission.
Michael Neumeier’s shot from the right point snuck through the traffic to give the Bobcats the lead at 8:04 of the second period, but a drop pass from Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) allowed Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) the space he needed to snap a tying goal past Spinnars Nordin with 6:45 left on the second-period clock.
“[Byron] made a nice play,” said Vlasich. “He kind of slowed up and looked around at his options. We work on all sorts of odd-man rush plays and all of those different looks, but he made a nice play just slowing up and finding me open.”
Another quick response came from the Bobcats just 21 seconds later, though, taking the lead for good on a forehand shot from Owen Michaels that zipped past Hudson Hodges (Moorhead, Minn./Austin Bruins) over his right shoulder for the 5-4 advantage.
Rudrud earned his second goal of the night at 1:32 of the third period, dragging the puck to his backhand in front of the net before shoveling it into the cage. At 6:19, Eddie Shepler snuck in a chance between the post and Hodges’s right skate, stuffing the Bobcats into a three-goal lead for the first time.
The Bulls were able to trim the deficit to two goals on a left-point wrist shot from Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) halfway through the third, but Rudrud had one final answer, clinching the hat trick with a shot on the run from the right wing just 26 seconds later to make it 8-5.
North Iowa wasn’t about to fade quietly into the North Dakota night, though, cutting the lead to two goals at 11:56 of the period when Jack Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) rang one into the net off the post, and knocking the lead down to a single goal on a wraparound goal from Brett Morich (Phoenix, Ariz./Jamestown Rebels) with 1:54 to play.
Bismarck wasn’t able to ice the game until after Hodges left the ice for an extra attacker, when Ben Troumbly tossed the puck into the empty net from just inside the blue line to get the lead to 9-7 and seal the victory for the Bobcats.
“It’s definitely the highest-scoring junior game I’ve been a part of. It’s probably the highest-scoring game since bantams or something like that,” said Vlasich, who finished with a goal and an assist. “Both offenses were going pretty hard – the defenses, not so much. We’ve got to tighten up on the back end for sure.”
Rapalje had two goals and an assist to pace the North Iowa offense, while Hartley finished with three assists. Four other Bulls, including Vlasich, finished up the evening with two points apiece. Seven Bobcats finished with multi-point efforts, led by Rudrud’s hat trick, his first since his 2017-18 campaign at Farmington High School in Minnesota.
The goaltenders saw plenty of action, with Spinnars Nordin earning his third win against the Bulls behind 24 saves. Hodges made 32 saves on 40 Bismarck shots, taking his first loss as a member of the Bulls. Each team came up short on its only power play of the night.
The Bulls’ seven goals ties an NAHL-era high for the team, while Bismarck notched nine in a game for the first time since last season’s 9-4 win at the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on January 30. The 16 overall goals marks the highest-scoring Bulls game since a 13-3 win over the Willmar WarHawks on October 30, 2020, in North Iowa’s final season as an NA3HL team. It’s the first time a North Iowa game has ever ended with a 9-7 score, and only the second time the Bulls have allowed nine goals in a game (tying the team’s 9-2 New Year’s Eve defeat against the Twin City Steel in its inaugural 2011-12 campaign).
The win bumped the Bobcats’ record to 13-19-1-2 for the season, while the Bulls slipped to 16-13-1-4 heading into a rematch Saturday night. The opening puck drop at the V.F.W. Sports Center in Bismarck is slated for 7:15 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
The Bulls return to home ice next Thursday for their “Business Break” Night, with two free tickets for each member of the Mason City Chamber of Commerce and all other adult tickets marked down to just $5. Kids under 13 will be admitted free, and domestic beers will be marked down to just $2 for North Iowa’s weeknight affair against the St. Cloud Norsemen. To purchase advance tickets to that 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 are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 3 1 3 – 7
Bismarck 3 2 4 – 9
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Rapalje 20 (Mesic, Potter), 3:52. 2, Bismarck, Pietila 11 (Neumeier), 4:27. 3, Bismarck, Rudrud 13 (Egan, Chmelevski), 9:55. 4, Bismarck, Holt 7 (Mclean), 14:45. 5, North Iowa, Rapalje 21 (Hartley, Mesic), 17:52. 6, North Iowa, Bulger 10 (Domina), 18:20. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-7, Bismarck, Neumeier 4 (VanRooyan, Huglen), 8:04. 8, North Iowa, Vlasich 4 (Hartley), 13:15. 9, Bismarck, Michaels 6 (Johnson), 13:36. Penalties-Mesic Nio (checking from behind-minor), 16:17.
3rd Period-10, Bismarck, Rudrud 14 (Chmelevski, Ziskie), 1:32. 11, Bismarck, Shepler 12 (Hanson, Huglen), 6:19. 12, North Iowa, Japchen 8 (Hartley, Rapalje), 10:01. 13, Bismarck, Rudrud 15 (Egan), 10:27. 14, North Iowa, Mesic 6 (Potter, LaRusso), 11:56. 15, North Iowa, Morich 4 (Vlasich, Domina), 18:06. 16, Bismarck, Troumbly 4 (Mclean, VanRooyan), 19:18 (EN). Penalties-Johnson Bis (charging-minor), 7:55.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-9-11-31. Bismarck 15-12-14-41.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 1; Bismarck 0 / 1.
Goalies-North Iowa, Hodges 10-6-1-0 (40 shots-32 saves). Bismarck, Spinnars Nordin 5-2-0-1 (31 shots-24 saves).
Linesmen-Andrew Bartholomay, Kyle Stephens.