MASON CITY, Iowa – It wasn’t as pretty as the North Iowa Bulls envisioned their 11th win in a row would be, but the Bulls got the job done regardless on Friday night with a 4-1 win over the Rochester Ice Hawks to move their record to 13-2 on the year. In nine meetings all-time with the Ice Hawks, the Bulls have never been beaten, but the three-goal margin was the closest of the nine matchups to date.
The first 20 minutes weren’t exactly a stalemate – North Iowa out-shot its visitors 14-4 in the game, but failed to get a single goal on the board against Drew Schenkenberg. The second period, though, was all Bulls, starting literally from the opening faceoff – a 3-on-2 rush into the Rochester zone right off the draw led to a scoring chance for Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.), who buried one off of a pass from Owen Larson (Minneapolis, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at the six-second mark of the period.
Scoring spurts and quick strikes have been the Bulls’ forte lately, and they did it again in the final four minutes of the period – with 3:59 remaining on the second-period clock Steven Mordini (Baraboo, Wis./Team Wisconsin) took a pass at the top of the slot and blasted one through traffic to the back of the net to double the lead. Just 29 seconds later, Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./Bismarck Bobcats) walked the puck to the net from the left faceoff circle, but his initial try was pushed aside by Schenkenberg – fortunately for the Bulls, the Ice Hawks’ netminder left a rebound hanging for Logan Miller (Menomonie, Wis./Menomonie H.S.) to clean up for a 3-0 lead.
Matthew Bembenek wasn’t about to let the Bulls have a shutout win, though, sending in an unassisted tally with 2:24 left before the intermission for a 3-1 lead. The only goal after the second intermission was another early one, with Larson in front of the net to redirect a toss to the net from Mordini at the left point. Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) led the way with assists on three of the Bulls’ four goals, and R.J. Pluhar (Glen Carbon, Ill./Aberdeen Wings) turned away 24 of the Ice Hawks’ 25 shots for the win, including all 15 Rochester chances in the third period, picking up a win in his Bulls debut.
“The nerves, they come and go,” said Pluhar. “The win felt good, and the boys played well. I love playing here, and I’m sure that’s not going to change – the fans are rowdy.”
North Iowa will finish off the weekend home-and-home with a visit to the Rochester Recreation Center Saturday night. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m., with live streaming on HockeyTV.