MASON CITY, Iowa – Don’t ask North Iowa goaltender Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) what’s working for the Bulls lately. You’ll get a far more concise answer if you ask him what’s not working for his team.
Then again, “everything” might just be as concise an answer as you could get.
The Bulls extended their shutout streak to four straight games on Saturday night, blanking the Rochester Grizzlies 4-0 in front of 2,013 fans in the second junior hockey game at the Mason City Arena. It was the Bulls’ second shutout against a first-place team, with the Grizzlies clinging to the Central Division lead after St. Louis’s win over Wausau on Saturday. Rochester and St. Louis are even at 47 points, but the Grizzlies have three games in hand on the Jr. Blues.
North Iowa has had a habit of starting hot recently, and the Bulls weren’t about to change that trend on Saturday. Noah Roitman (Inver Grove Heights, Minn./Simley H.S.) hit Nico Aguilera (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville South H.S.) with a tape-to-tape pass coming through the center circle, and Aguilera beat Mathias Backstrom with a transition goal just 3:22 into the contest.
The two teams traded penalties and power plays throughout the night, and the Bulls’ first power play was a smashing success. With 1:50 remaining in the first period, Sean Sullivan (Middleton, Wis./Madison Capitols 18U) raced up the left wing and slid one in underneath Backstrom to give North Iowa a 2-0 lead.
The Bulls needed less than a minute to put away another power play goal after a slashing call against Clayton Shultz at the 2:10 mark of the second period. At 3:04, Callahan Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./Wayzata H.S.) pitched one toward the net from the left point and got a tip from Jordan Roo (Champlin, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for another power play goal and a 3-0 lead.
The Grizzlies out-shot North Iowa in the final period by a 12-8 count, but the teams roared through most of the period without a goal from either side. Down by three goals, Rochester head coach Chris Ratzloff opted to pull Backstrom from the contest as the clock ticked down under three minutes to go. Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/Okanagan U20) iced the game with 1:22 to go, walking the puck into the empty net after getting a long toss to the Rochester blue line from Nick Bowlin (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls).
The Bulls were out-shot for only the fourth time of the season, with the Grizzlies posting a 33-23 advantage in that department. However, Babekuhl was up to the task, making saves on all 33 Grizzlies chances. Backstrom came into the game with a league-best 1.28 goals-against average, but left the ice with saves on just 19 of North Iowa’s 23 shots.
The four goals against was a season-high for the Swedish native, and the loss ended a personal eight-game winning streak. For Babekuhl, the win pushed his record for the season to 8-1, and extended the scoreless streak against the Bulls to more than 274 minutes. It’s only the third time in franchise history that the Bulls have won four shutouts in a row, but the 274-minute scoreless streak is a North Iowa defensive record.
“Our defense has been good,” said Babekuhl. “Our forwards have been good, and everyone’s been eating shots from the point. Everyone’s been doing everything they can, and selling out to win.”
After showing off their new arena this weekend, the Bulls hit the road to New Ulm and Alexandria on Friday and Saturday next week before welcoming the Granite City Lumberjacks to Mason City the following weekend. Friday’s game against the Steel gets underway at the New Ulm Civic Center at 7:10 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls home games 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.
Rochester 0 0 0 – 0
North Iowa 2 1 1 – 4
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Aguilera 8 (Roitman, Hempel), 3:24. 2, North Iowa, Sullivan 5 (Petronack, Vercellono), 18:10 (PP). Penalties-Olson Roc (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 3:24; Isogai Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 3:24; Saltness Nio (elbowing-minor), 12:27; Leisen Roc (high sticking-minor), 17:04; Eha Nio (roughing-minor), 18:10.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Roo 17 (Nauss, Wagner), 3:04 (PP). Penalties-Shultz Roc (slashing-minor), 2:10; Fagerlee Nio (tripping-minor), 5:51; Leisen Roc (roughing-minor), 10:36; Vercellono Nio (interference-minor), 11:53; Justice Roc (boarding-minor), 13:10.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Isogai 15 (Bowlin, Nauss), 18:38 (EN). Penalties-Isogai Nio (high sticking-minor), 4:51; Leisen Roc (slashing-minor), 7:55; Vercellono Nio (spearing-major, spearing-gm), 8:29; Fodstad Roc (slashing-minor), 13:26; Shultz Roc (roughing-minor), 14:31; Wagner Nio (roughing-minor), 14:31; Sullivan Nio (elbowing-minor), 14:39; Wilmes Roc (continuing altercation-10 misc), 19:19; Saltness Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor, continuing altercation-10 misc), 19:19; Stewart Nio (continuing altercation-10 misc), 19:19.
Shots on Goal-Rochester 5-16-12-33. North Iowa 8-7-8-23.
Power Play Opportunities-Rochester 0 / 8; North Iowa 2 / 6.
Goalies-Rochester, Backstrom 11-3-0-0 (22 shots-19 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 8-1-0-0 (33 shots-33 saves).
Linesmen-Dylan Krikke, Gavin Jocelyn.