AUSTIN, Minn. – At just 48 miles from door to door, the bus trip to Riverside Arena is a mere commute for the North Iowa Bulls.
Not that they and the Austin Bruins need the help to heat up their new North American Hockey League rivalry, mind you. That took care of itself in the teams’ first two meetings Friday and Saturday night. After dropping a 4-3 shootout loss to the Bruins on Friday, North Iowa grabbed the lead early in Saturday’s get-together in “Spam Town” and carried a 4-2 win home with them, as well as a share of the early Central Division race.
After trading goals all night against the Bruins in Mason City on Friday, North Iowa struck first, nabbing the game’s opening goal just 3:09 into the contest off of a turnover at center, with Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philadelphia Little Flyers 18U) driving the puck to the net and tossing it past Austin newcomer Niko Goich for the early lead.
Just as they did in Friday’s game, Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) and Anthony Domina (Severna Park, Md./Northern Cyclones) tag-teamed on the Bulls’ second goal of the game, with Domina winning a faceoff to the left of Goich, and Bulger quickly throwing it on net. Bulger’s shot snuck through underneath Goich to give the Bulls a 2-0 lead with 7:28 remaining in the period.
The Bruins bagged their first goal of the game with just 2:17 left in the period, starting with Nick Catalano’s dash down the left wing – his drop pass found Jens Richards in hot pursuit behind him, and Richards’s shot trickled through Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) to trim the North Iowa lead to 2-1.
A second-chance goal from Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) at 3:54 of the third period put the Bulls’ lead back at a pair – Greg Japchen’s (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) shot from the left point ended up to Goich’s left, and Rapalje was on the spot for North Iowa to put away the rebound and give the Bulls a 3-1 margin.
Austin took another bite out of the Bulls’ lead with 6:50 remaining in the game, with Jack Malinski feeding the puck across the slot through Sutter Muzzatti – he would find Marian Haborak on the weak side for a snap from the left-wing faceoff circle that beat Garvey to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Bulls’ penalty kill got into the action with 1:41 remaining – just five seconds after the end of a slashing call to Braidan Simmons-Fischer, Japchen sprinted the puck down the right-wing wall to start a 2-on-1 and found Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U AAA) for a toss-in on the back door for a 4-2 lead and the game’s final goal.
North Iowa controlled the pace of the game early, posting 16 shots on goal in the opening period against just seven for the Bruins. Austin would even things up through the final 40 minutes, though, with each team wrapping up the night with 29 shots on net. Goich took his first loss for Austin, making 25 saves, and Garvey made 27 stops for his first win as a North Iowa Bull.
“We got three out of four (points) this weekend, so ultimately, it’s a good weekend,” said Bulger. “I wish we could have gotten the sweep, but we’ll just have to keep going.”
The Bulls also became the first team to solve the Bruins’ power play, holding Austin to an 0-for-5 mark on the man-advantage and posting their shorthanded marker in the final minutes for good measure. The North Iowa power play, however, went 0-for-5 itself, extending its string to 20 straight opportunities without a conversion.
With the win, the Bulls find themselves holding a share of first place in a very crowded race at the top of the Central Division. North Iowa and Austin both wrap up the first weekend of October with five wins and 11 points in the standings, while the St. Cloud Norsemen are hot on their heels at 10 points. With two games in hand on the rest of the Central Division field, St. Cloud also holds the division’s best winning percentage.
North Iowa makes its longest trip of the season next weekend with a two-day visit to Minot, North Dakota to face the Minotauros. The opening puck drops at the Maysa Arena Friday and Saturday are slated for 7:35 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
The Bulls return home for their “Fall Into Hockey” weekend October 15 and 16 against the Minot Minotauros. To purchase advance tickets to those games, or any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 1 2 – 4
Austin 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Hartley 1 (Galante), 3:09. Penalties-Burkle Aus (slashing-minor), 14:31; Richards Aus (tripping-minor), 17:04.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, Bulger 3 (Domina), 12:32. 3, Austin, Richards 6 (Catalano), 17:43. Penalties-Malinski Aus (slashing-minor), 3:52; Helgeson Nio (cross checking-minor), 8:52; Muzzatti Aus (high sticking-minor), 15:29; Mexico Nio (roughing-minor), 18:08; Malinski Aus (cross checking-minor), 18:08; Domina Nio (roughing-minor), 19:16; Mesic Nio (hooking-minor), 19:16; Riddle Aus (roughing-minor), 19:16.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Rapalje 3 (Carroll, Dombrowsky), 3:54. 5, Austin, Haborak 3 (Muzzatti, Malinski), 13:10. 6, North Iowa, Mesic 3 (Japchen), 18:19 (SH). Penalties-Scott Nio (tripping-minor), 13:58; Mesic Nio (cross checking-minor), 14:30; Gajewski Aus (roughing-minor), 14:30; Simmons-Fischer Aus (slashing-minor), 16:13; Carroll Nio (slashing-minor), 16:30; Rapalje Nio (checking from behind-minor), 19:46.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 16-7-6-29. Austin 7-10-12-29.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 5; Austin 0 / 5.
Goalies-North Iowa, Garvey 1-0-0-1 (29 shots-27 saves). Austin, Goich 1-1-0-0 (29 shots-25 saves).
Linesmen-Grant Crowell, Aaron Mostrom.