MASON CITY, Iowa – When North Iowa and Rochester get together on the ice, you always know it’ll always come down to the final moments. Even when the games don’t technically count, they feel like they do.
The Bulls’ game against the Grizzlies lived up to the expectations on Saturday night and then some – neither team was able to grab a two-goal lead, and Rochester only led once in regulation. That lead held up for less than three minutes during the middle of the second period.
That was no matter, though, as the Grizzlies took a 5-4 overtime victory against North Iowa – the win snapped an unofficial streak of nine straight wins by the home team in the series. Even the official streak is an impressive one, standing at seven games dating back to last season.
The early momentum swing went to the Bulls – Rochester netminder Shane Soderwall was able to kick Max Savaloja’s (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.) shot from the middle of the slot out front, but Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) was waiting there to bang in the rebound for a 1-0 lead just 2:19 in.
By the eight-minute mark, the game began again – Matt DeRosa’s pass from the left-wing corner set up Peyton Hart for a one-timer opportunity on the edge of the slot, and his shot instead went to Justin Wright for the re-direct and a 1-1 game.
The Grizzlies took their only lead of the game just past the seven-minute mark of the second period, with Hunter Wilmes catching a launch from the Rochester zone at the North Iowa blue line, and his transition goal made it a 2-1 contest.
That lead lasted less than three minutes – just before the game’s halfway mark, Nick Mohs-Messerli (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) sprinted the puck down the right wing and Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) found the last-second pass on the back post to tap in the tying goal.
The final minute of the second period gave the Bulls their first true look at a special-teams tally – a five-minute major for boarding against Joey Fodstad was closely followed by a hooking call against Hart with a minute to go in the middle stanza, and the hosts found themselves with a potential two-minute 5-on-3.
The 5-on-3 lasted all of 20 seconds – with 40.7 showing on the clock, Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) returned to the ice after a quick evaluation and threw a shot on net from the right-wing circle, and the weak-side rebound went right to Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong H.S.), who put it away to give North Iowa the 3-2 lead heading to the second intermission.
Rochester was able to tie it at 8:14 of the third, thanks to a wraparound setup pass from Wright to DeRosa, but the Bulls regained the advantage just 26 seconds later on a rope from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) above the left-wing faceoff circle.
“Guys are just getting open,” said Nauss. “They’re allowing me to make plays and letting me work, and they know I’ll get them the puck and let them do what they need to do.”
For a while, that goal appeared to be the eventual game-winner, but the Grizzlies’ top line struck yet again with 3:07 to go. A turnover at the blue line set up a 2-on-1 chance for Rochester heading the other way – Wright’s tap-in try missed wide off the end boards, but with Caleb Mayer (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North H.S.) committed to his left, DeRosa was able to grab the puck and slide it into the open net and tie the contest at 4-4.
The game’s final turning point did not come in overtime, but rather with 1:08 to go in the third period on a costly too-many-men penalty against North Iowa. The Bulls were able to kill off the 5-on-4 portion before the third-period time ran out, but their luck ran out on the overtime 4-on-3. Dylan Schneider rattled home a shot from the left-wing faceoff dot off of a rinkwide pass from Yotaro Nakadate to end the game.
The Grizzlies’ top line was a deadly one in Saturday’s game – DeRosa and Hart each finished with a goal and two assists, with Wright adding a goal and an assist of his own. The Bulls got two assists from Heffron to lead the losing effort.
The unofficial win went to Zach Wiese, who made 15 saves in relief of Soderwall after his exit midway through the second period. Mayer went the distance for North Iowa, finishing with 26 saves. The Bulls won the shot count 34-31, and went 1-for-4 on the power play. Rochester finished 1-for-2, making the most of their extra man in the extra session.
“It was a tough, well-fought game,” said Nauss. “Props to them – they played well, and we played well as well. They came out on top this time, but if there is a next time, I think we’ll be a lot better.”
North Iowa is tentatively scheduled to play home games against Alexandria and Willmar on Friday and Saturday, though recent COVID restrictions in Minnesota have those games in doubt. Stay tuned to the North Iowa Bulls website and social media for the latest news on the team’s schedule.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.