WOODRIDGE, Ill. – With a virtual Fraser Cup quarterfinal on the schedule on Thursday evening, the North Iowa Bulls needed a sky-high level of desire in their contest against the Helena Bighorns, and a strong performance to match.
The Bulls took care of both of those, and did so quickly, in an 8-2 victory at the Seven Bridges Ice Arena in suburban Chicago. North Iowa out-shot the Bighorns 51-30, including a 35-17 margin over the first two periods.
Todd Sanden’s team asserted itself quickly – Evan Junker’s (Elk River, Minn./Elk River H.S.) pitch to the net from the right point caught Nick Johnson (New Richmond, Wis./Team Wisconsin) along the way, with Johnson re-directing the puck for the lead just 3:27 into the game. The Bulls never trailed, and doubled the lead with 7:47 left in the period – Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) made a move through the slot and kicked the puck onto his stick before burying a low chance against Carver Thompson for a 2-0 lead.
That lead stuck going into the second period, and North Iowa was able to double the lead again from there. Harrison Stewart (Rockford, Ill./Milwaukee Jr. Admirals U18) scored from the very bottom of the faceoff circle off of a shot from Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) that missed off the glass. That goal came at 2:10 of the second period, followed by Jarod Blackowiak’s (Eden Prairie, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) goal 76 seconds later off of a drop pass from Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls).
Helena finally reached the scoreboard with 5:55 to go in the period, when a try from the edge of the goalie crease skittered across to the weak side. Ian Zaleski found that loose puck and put it away to cut the Bulls lead to 4-1.
After going without a power play chance Thursday against the Lewiston/Auburn Nordiques, North Iowa had to make the most of their only chance against Helena on Friday. Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./North Iowa Bulls) did just that with a power play goal at 19:03, giving North Iowa a 5-1 lead and some added momentum going to the second-period break. The pass to him came from Wagner above the left-wing faceoff circle.
The Bulls continued to tack on goals in the third – after scoring two against Lewiston/Auburn on Thursday, Matt Rozman (Edina, Minn./Edina Jr. Gold) buried a chance on a play across the slot with just 2:34 off the clock in the third.
Blackowiak scored again with 9:32 remaining, putting one away in the top half on one knee against Alexander Rogers. A one-timer from just outside the slot allowed Jordan Roo (Champlin, Minn./Benilde-St. Margaret H.S.) to get the lead to 8-1 with 3:27 left in Helena’s season.
1998-born Elliot Plourde capped his junior career with a snap from the left wing, putting one past Dysen Skinner (Billings, Mont./Sioux Falls Jr. Stampede 18U) for the Bighorns’ final response with 1:35 to go.
Blackowiak finished with two goals in the contest. Wagner had three assists in the game, and four North Iowa players each notched a pair. Skinner made 28 saves on 30 Bighorns chances for his fifth win of the postseason. Thompson exited the game for Helena after the Bulls’ first goal of the second period, and took the loss with 16 saves on 19 North Iowa chances.
“We played pretty well tonight,” said Blackowiak. “I think we’ll have another gear tomorrow, and we just have to build momentum for tomorrow.”
The Bulls’ championship hopes remain alive with a 1-1 finish in the afternoon pool at the Fraser Cup. Their spot in the single-elimination semifinal round is booked, with a matchup awaiting on Saturday evening against the Texas Brahmas, who beat the St. Louis Jr. Blues on Friday evening for their pool’s championship. The opening puck drop at the Seven Bridges Ice Arena is scheduled for 6 p.m.
North Iowa 2 3 3 – 8
Helena 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Johnson 1 (Junker, Nagel), 3:27. 2, North Iowa, Fagerlee 1 (Wagner, Bogach), 12:13. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Stewart 2 (Wagner, Dahlseide), 2:10. 4, North Iowa, Blackowiak 1 (Studioso, McDermott), 3:23. 5, Helena, Zaleski 1 (Kipper, Donovan), 14:05. 6, North Iowa, Verstegen 1 (Wagner, Studioso), 19:04 (PP). Penalties-Laggis Hel (high sticking-minor), 18:15.
3rd Period-7, North Iowa, Rozman 3 (Dahlseide, Kubitz), 2:34. 8, North Iowa, Blackowiak 2 (Bogach, McDermott), 10:28. 9, North Iowa, Roo 1 (Giddings, Petronack), 17:33. 10, Helena, Plourde 1 (Donovan, Dietz), 18:37. Penalties-Nagel Nio (high sticking-minor), 6:07.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 16-19-16-51. Helena 9-8-13-30.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 1; Helena 0 / 1.
Goalies-North Iowa, Skinner 1-1-0-0 (30 shots-28 saves). Helena, Thompson 0-1-0-0 (19 shots-16 saves); Rogers 0-1-0-0 (32 shots-27 saves).
Linesmen-Colton Capelle, Richard Faron.