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MASON CITY, Iowa – After a loss to St. Louis on Friday night where the Jr. Blues took advantage of a late penalty to score the eventual game-winner, the message to the North Iowa Bulls was clear on Saturday night: start on time and finish the game right.
Of course, having the incentive of a Teddy Bear Toss never hurts.
The Bulls did all that was asked of them in Saturday’s game against the Sheridan Hawks, starting quickly, finishing cleanly, and giving the fans an incentive to fling their toys onto the ice early in a 6-0 victory, sending the Hawks home with a 2-2 finish in the Bulls’ Holiday Classic at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena.
Goaltender Caleb Mayer (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville North H.S.) certainly did all that was asked of him on the way to a shutout, making 18 stops in the victory. So did Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.), who scored the opening goal just 2:19 into the game, just after the end of a North Iowa power play. Garrett Freeman’s (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) setup pass found Savaloja on the doorstep, who batted in the one-timer and brought the bears raining down from the stands.
Freeman himself nearly had a goal at the 9:23 mark of the period, batting down a flying puck in front of the net just seconds after a faceoff in front of Sheridan goalie James Downie. However, his stick was just above the crossbar, negating the goal after a brief discussion among the officials.
Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) took matters into his own hands 35 seconds later, scoring on a 2-on-1 rush after a pass across from Savaloja. Downie slid across the crease to block the puck, which clipped him on his left hip. By the time Downie could reach back to find the loose puck, the red light was on and the Bulls were up 2-0.
Freeman and Savaloja caught each other again at the 5:10 mark of the second period, with Freeman sliding one out toward the slot – Savaloja found himself a half-step beyond the pass, but gathered the puck and slipped it past Downie for a 3-0 lead.
A 3-on-2 chance later in the period nearly made it a four-goal game, with Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) finding Brendan Sloth (Anoka, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) on the way to the top of the slot. His wrister found the back of the net, but in the hunt for a possible rebound, Brayden Uttech’s (Sun Prairie, Wis./Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings) brakes never kicked in, and once more North Iowa found itself with the puck in the cage but no goal to show for it.
Savaloja helped to bring that goal back just minutes later, though, forcing a turnover on a stick-lift to Downie’s right and sending a pass out front for Smith. He caught the pass and worked the puck to his forehand before sliding it into the net, giving North Iowa a 4-0 lead with 6:31 left in the period.
The Bulls took a 26-10 shots-on-goal advantage into the final period, and an interference call against Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) did nothing to slow their roll. Instead, just 12 seconds after his infraction, Nick Mohs-Messerli (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) raced into the Sheridan zone and forced a turnover directly behind the Hawks’ net. Downie ended up off-balance trying to avoid a collision between himself, Mohs-Messerli and Tony Brings, and Mohs-Messerli swept the puck into the open net for the 5-0 lead.
That shorthanded goal led to another special-teams opportunity with 11:10 remaining, with Savaloja finding Freeman on a power play at the front of the net – Freeman jammed in the chance on Savaloja’s pass from the bottom of the faceoff circle for a 6-0 advantage, and the game’s final tally.
North Iowa finished the night 1-for-7 on the man-advantage and wrapped up a perfect evening on the penalty-kill, wiping out all five Sheridan power plays along the way. Savaloja ended the night with two goals and three assists, notching points on five of the Bulls’ six goals for the game. Smith wrapped up the night with two goals and an assist of his own, and Freeman had a goal and two assists.
The Bulls moved to 2-1 for the weekend and can bring home Holiday Classic bragging rights Sunday afternoon with a win over the St. Louis Jr. Blues. The two rivals wind down the Holiday Classic with a noon puck drop on “Santa Sunday” inside the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the Bulls’ social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.