MASON CITY, Iowa – As the North Iowa Bulls’ regular season begins to wind down, the conversation turns to milestones and cementing a playoff schedule. The Bulls took a big step toward that goal on Friday night, defeating the Peoria Mustangs 5-3 to seal up home-ice advantage in the first round of the Fraser Cup West Division playoffs. With a St. Louis win over Granite City on Friday evening as well, the Bulls can reach the West Division title by the end of the weekend as well.
Harrison Stewart’s (Rockford, Ill./Amarillo Bulls) backhand toss across the ice caught Jordan Roo (Champlin, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at the top of the left-wing faceoff circle, and his wrist shot beat Cole Walter at the 6:38 mark of the first period for the first lead of the night. An answer at 9:01 came in the form of a snipe from Jaycob Bland, which beat Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) over the right shoulder to equalize the game at 1-1.
The Bulls gained the lead for good with 4:35 remaining in the first period, with 29 seconds remaining on a power play thanks to a tripping call against Ian McHenry. Stewart’s initial shot missed high, but Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./Odessa Jackalopes) tossed the rebound toward the net from the right-wing circle and beat Walter for the 2-1 lead.
With 1:10 to go, Justin Daly (Delano, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) forced a Mustangs turnover at center ice and pushed it ahead to Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.), who slid in a five-hole marker to send North Iowa to the first intermission with a 3-1 lead.
The hosts continued to add on in the second period – Wagner fired another sharp-angle rebound at the net from the bottom of the faceoff circle to Walter’s right, throwing one in the upper corner at the 8:01 mark. Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) made it 5-1 with 6:28 left in the period after grabbing the puck at the blue line, and moving the puck around a defender to set up a forehand chance.
The final stanza was a tune much more to Peoria’s liking, but it was simply too little, too late. George Giese bounced off a defender in the right-wing circle and tucked one under the crossbar for a power play goal of his own at 3:04 of the third period, cutting the lead to 5-2.
The Mustangs got one more with 8:48 to go, but it was as close as they came. On a rush up the right wing, Dillan Bentley’s initial shot was blocked, but the rebound bounced directly to Zac Eddington, who was prepared with a one-timer to put away the second chance and make it a 5-3 game.
Another untimely penalty with 2:34 to go proved to be costly, as Eddington ended up in the box with an unsportsmanlike conduct infraction – North Iowa did not convert on the man-advantage, but with much of the next two minutes played in the Peoria zone, the damage was already done.
“They play hard. They play physical,” said Stewart, who finished with a pair of assists. “They’re on defense quick, so we’ve got to move pucks quickly, and hit them as well.”
Babekuhl finished with 28 saves, earning his 14th win of the season. Walter retired to the bench after the Bulls’ fifth goal, making 13 saves to take the loss and end the Mustangs’ five-game winning streak. However, Jaden Gardner was a perfect 8-for-8 in relief. Each team finished the night with a 1-for-4 mark on the power play.
The two teams get together again Saturday night as Families of the Fallen Jersey Auction Weekend comes to a close. With another Granite City loss at St. Louis, a North Iowa win would also wrap up the West Division title race. The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets to upcoming Bulls home games, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
Peoria 1 0 2 – 3
North Iowa 3 2 0 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Roo 22 (Stewart, Sullivan), 6:38. 2, Peoria, Bland 16 (Mason, Helfer), 9:01. 3, North Iowa, Wagner 17 (Stewart), 15:25 (PP). 4, North Iowa, Wahlin 28 (Daly), 18:50. Penalties-Wagner Nio (hooking-minor), 9:44; served by Hill Peo (too many men-minor), 11:43; McHenry Peo (tripping-minor), 14:04.
2nd Period-5, North Iowa, Wagner 18 (Saltness, Fagerlee), 8:01. 6, North Iowa, Fagerlee 21 (Saltness, Sullivan), 13:32. Penalties-Walter Peo (roughing-minor), 5:09; Isogai Nio (roughing-minor), 5:09; Wisely Peo (tripping-minor), 5:29; Eha Nio (boarding-minor), 9:30.
3rd Period-7, Peoria, Giese 15 3:04 (PP). 8, Peoria, Eddington 12 (Bentley, Hichborn), 11:12. Penalties-Petronack Nio (slashing-minor), 2:07; Nauss Nio (cross checking-minor), 7:20; Eddington Peo (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 17:26.
Shots on Goal-Peoria 10-10-11-31. North Iowa 11-8-6-25.
Power Play Opportunities-Peoria 1 / 4; North Iowa 1 / 4.
Goalies-Peoria, Walter 10-9-0-3 (18 shots-13 saves); Gardner 11-8-1-0 (7 shots-7 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 14-2-0-0 (31 shots-28 saves).
Linesmen-Grant Crowell, Daniel Van Loon.