BLAINE, Minn. – With a schedule designed to create competitive matchups, the North American Tier 3 Hockey League Showcase had the potential to be a major milestone in some very close races across the league. That didn’t come quite as true for the North Iowa Bulls, who remain just a point behind the Granite City Lumberjacks heading to Christmas, following a 6-2 win over the Helena Bighorns on Tuesday to close out the pre-holiday portion of the schedule.
North Iowa got a big finish to the Showcase itself, but got a big finish in Tuesday’s game in particular, with three goals in the final period and a 44-16 shots-on-goal advantage over the Frontier Division leaders. Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) had an assist to get his season-high point streak to 15 straight games, passing Brendan Studioso’s (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) 14-game run earlier this year.
It was Helena that drew first blood, and did so quickly, with Luc Cross’s left-wing shot beating Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./Orono H.S.) on the glove side just 3:03 into the contest.
North Iowa got that goal back just three minutes later, on a power play following a holding call against the Bighorns’ Alex Bailey. Dahlseide’s assist came early, with Jimmy McDermott (Dubuque, Iowa/Wisconsin Whalers) sending one behind the net to Dahlseide to set up a play on the man-advantage. Dahlseide’s return pass set McDermott up right in front of the net, and the tap-in tied the contest at 1-1.
In the second period, Jarod Blackowiak (Eden Prairie, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) grabbed a clearing attempt from the Bighorns and walked it to the top of the slot before zipping one over the right shoulder of Alexander Rogers to take the 2-1 lead at the 5:38 mark.
Darren Donovan answered with a goal of his own just before the halfway mark of the game, beating Skinner along the ice on the breakaway to tie it at 2-2. With 6:36 remaining before the intermission, Marco Escobar (Plainfield, Ill./Sioux Falls Jr. Stampede U18) found Nick Johnson (New Richmond, Wis./Team Wisconsin U18) rolling into the Bighorns’ zone, and Johnson buried his chance to take the lead for good.
The Bulls weren’t remotely satisfied heading to the third, though – Ivan Bogach (Brooklyn, N.Y./North Iowa Bulls) tossed one in from the left point, and got a tip in front from Escobar to double the lead just 20 seconds out of the break.
Escobar added onto his scoring total at the 4:26 mark of the third, lighting the lamp for a 5-2 lead with time winding down on a 4-on-4 ahead of a Bulls power play. Just ahead of the end of a penalty to Harrison Stewart (Rockford, Ill./Milwaukee Jr. Admirals U18), Konnor Carlson’s (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley H.S.) pass rolled out of the corner to Escobar, who rippled the net for the three-goal lead.
Carlson himself got one on the board with 6:58 remaining, with Nick Bowlin (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan H.S.) feeding one along the blue line on a 2-on-2 rush into the Helena zone. Carlson hit the top corner of the net above Rogers’s glove, putting an exclamation mark on the Bulls’ three-day run at the 2018 Showcase.
“I was glad to come out in the third (period) and set the tone,” said Escobar. “The boys had a good week, and hopefully we can carry this momentum to the second half (of the season) and keep the ball rolling.”
Escobar finished the day with two goals and an assist, with Carlson coming in close behind with a goal and assist of his own. Not to be lost in the shuffle was Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) with a couple of assists in the contest.
Babekuhl picked up his first win in more than a month, making 14 saves on 16 Helena chances to move to 5-4-0-0 on the season. Rogers was tagged for his first loss of the season, dropping to 9-1-0-0 with 38 saves on 44 North Iowa shots.
The Bulls have won six in a row overall and 16 of their last 17, and head to the holiday break with a 21-6-0-0 overall record. They’ve now won seven straight at the NA3HL Showcase. Helena closes out the NA3HL Showcase with a record of 23-4-0-0 for the season, losing two of three in the Twin Cities.
North Iowa returns to action with a pivotal West Division road game on Saturday, December 29 at the Rochester Grizzlies. The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at the Rochester Recreation Center, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
North Iowa returns to home ice on January 4 for “Cinemania Night” against the New Ulm Steel, featuring appearances from some of your favorite movie characters, including the Minions, Frozen’s Olaf, Spiderman and Spongebob Squarepants. For advance tickets to that game or any future Bulls home game, click here.
Helena 1 1 0 – 2
North Iowa 1 2 3 – 6
1st Period-1, Helena, Cross 21 (Noel, Tirrill), 3:03. 2, North Iowa, McDermott 9 (Dahlseide), 6:07 (PP). Penalties-Bailey Hel (holding-minor), 5:10; Moyer Nio (cross checking-minor), 7:13; Noel Hel (cross checking-minor), 12:47; Bailey Hel (boarding-minor), 15:45.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Blackowiak 20 (Studioso, Stewart), 5:38. 4, Helena, Donovan 21 (Plourde), 9:34. 5, North Iowa, Johnson 2 (Escobar, Fagerlee), 13:24. Penalties-Junker Nio (cross checking-minor), 1:33; Cross Hel (tripping-minor), 3:33; Dietz Hel (tripping-minor), 6:47.
3rd Period-6, North Iowa, Escobar 9 (Bogach, Fagerlee), 0:20. 7, North Iowa, Escobar 10 (Carlson), 4:26. 8, North Iowa, Carlson 6 (Bowlin), 13:02. Penalties-Studioso Nio (boarding-minor), 9:57; Carlson Nio (boarding-minor), 17:44.
Shots on Goal-Helena 3-8-5-16. North Iowa 18-10-16-44.
Power Play Opportunities-Helena 0 / 0; North Iowa 1 / 0.
Goalies-Helena, Rogers 9-1-0-0 (44 shots-38 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 5-4-0-0 (16 shots-14 saves).
Linesmen-Shawn Cornock, Jack Young.