ROCHESTER, Minn. – 2017 ended for the North Iowa Bulls just as the previous two calendar years did – with a dominant New Year’s Eve win on the Rochester Ice Hawks’ home ice. In this edition of the matchup, the Bulls racked up 88 shots on goal for an 11-3 win, their 22nd straight win in the head-to-head series and their 13th straight win to start the new year.
Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) scored two more goals, starting with the game’s opening goal just 90 seconds into the contest as the net came off its moorings behind Luke Murphy.
Former North Iowa Bulls forward Vinny Billing came back from St. Scholastica in Duluth to join the Ice Hawks over the weekend, and put away a sharp-angle shot at 5:14 of the first period to tie the game at one. That goal ended a stretch of 23 unanswered North Iowa goals, dating back to the start of their game against Texas at the NA3HL Showcase.
Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) grabbed the lead back for good with 6:06 remaining in the first period, followed by an insurance goal by Bernhardson at the 17:35 mark of the opening period.
The insurance goal disappeared 5:36 into the second period, on Rochester’s wraparound goal from leading scorer Josh Hoffman. A short-distance snipe from Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) put the lead back to two goals near the midway point of the period, giving the visitors a 4-2 lead.
A 76-second stretch in the second period doubled the lead, with a second goal from Dolter and a tap-in on the doorstep from Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./Oshkosh H.S.). The period ended at 7-2, after a stretch pass caught Studioso at the red line to set up a breakaway and a double-deke goal.
Four more goals went on the board in the final 20 minutes of the year for the Bulls. Daniel Sandvig (Burnsville, Minn./Burnsville H.S.) put one off the bottom of the crossbar less than four minutes into the second period, and barely two minutes later, Isaac Baron (Burnsville, Minn./Academy of Holy Angels) added on to the lead, and the North Iowa total hit double-figures on another breakaway goal at 10:01, this time from Cameron Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.).
Jarod Blackowiak‘s (Eden Prairie, Minn./Austin Bruins) wraparound tally with 5:18 left was the final North Iowa goal before the final flip to 2018, but Hoffman would rip one past Drew Scites (Plymouth, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for the Ice Hawks’ final answer with 2:30 remaining.
Scites would make 15 saves on just 18 Rochester shots. Murphy stayed busy from start to finish, making 77 saves to drop to 0-7 for the year. Each team had two power-play chances on the night, but only the Bulls were able to capitalize with the extra man. North Iowa also notched a goal on the penalty kill.
The Ice Hawks once again played with a short bench, putting just nine skaters on the ice along with Murphy in net. In an effort to spread around the available playing time, Bulls head coach Todd Sanden also scratched three of his top six scorers from the game-night lineup.
North Iowa continues a four-game road swing with two games in Alexandria against the former West Division rival Blizzard on Friday and Saturday night, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
The Central Division leaders return to the home ice on Saturday, Jan. 13, for “Superhero Night” against the La Crosse Freeze at the North Iowa Ice Arena. For advance tickets to that game, or any future Bulls home game, click here.