La CROSSE, Wis. – After a 3-2 loss Friday night against the La Crosse Freeze in the opening game of the Fraser Cup Central Division Finals, North Iowa needed a win Saturday at the Green Island Ice Arena to stay alive in their quest for a sixth straight trip to the NA3HL’s championship weekend.
The regular-season division champions couldn’t get the win they needed, and the Freeze got the one they wanted with a 4-3 overtime victory. The loss ended a five-game winning streak for the Bulls in postseason overtime games, and denied them another finish in Chicagoland.
Just as in Friday’s game, the Bulls were able to get on the board first, and this time they did it on the power play, following an interference minor on Nathan McComb. Cameron Fagerlee‘s (St. Anthony, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) pass on the power play led Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) up ice, and Bump was able to beat a challenge from Will Graves and send the puck in for the opening goal.
After a late offensive flurry for the Freeze put them ahead on the shot count after 20 minutes, Josh Arnold‘s (Roseville, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) elbowing penalty put the hosts up a man as well. Clayton Lackey erased the Bulls’ lead just 31 seconds into the second period, tapping one in on the doorstep.
The Bulls were able to get one back barely three minutes later, though, after a throw toward the net from Lucas McKinnon (Chapin, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) hit a body in front of the net, and Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was able to catch Graves out of position and put the puck away for a 2-1 lead.
The newly-minted lead came back off the board at 8:24 of the second period, when Brandon Ratzloff picked off a rebound off of Alec Seeger’s initial shot and put it in the back of the net for a 2-2 tie. At the end of the second period, the teams were as even as could possibly be, with each team also sitting at 26 shots on goal and a 1-for-2 line on the power play.
After answering a couple of Bulls goals in the first two periods, La Crosse forced their guests to answer one just over four minutes into the third period. Lackey put away his second goal of the night right off of the initial faceoff, following a roughing penalty to Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls), giving the home team a 3-2 lead.
Forced to answer that goal with the season on the brink, the Bulls did just that, with Bump working the puck to the net and Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) finishing off the play at the halfway point of the third period.
The third intermission took 15 minutes, but the overtime took just over two minutes to play, and it started ominously for North Iowa, with Dolter heading to the box just 10 seconds into the overtime period on a holding infraction. After being pulled down just after the opening faceoff of the extra period, Matthew Francois had the last word after putting in a rebound on a setup shot from Keaton Caplis. The Bulls’ penalty-killing unit nearly turned away the Freeze special teams, with the goal coming just six seconds before the end of Dolter’s penalty time.
The Bulls finished 1-for-3 on the power play in the game, while the Freeze capitalized on three of their six chances with the extra man. Will Graves earned his fifth career win against North Iowa, turning away 37 of the 40 shots that headed his way. Colin Cain (Hummelstown, Pa./N.J. Junior Titans U18) finished his record-breaking season with a 45-save showing on 49 La Crosse chances.
The loss ends the Bulls’ season with a 41-5-3-2 record, and marks their first playoff series loss since the 2012 West Division Finals against the Granite City Lumberjacks. North Iowa lost the opening game of that series in overtime, before winning the second game in overtime and bowing out with a Game 3 loss.
The loss also spells the end of seven Bulls’ junior careers, with several of those players already committed to college programs for 2018-19. In all, seven current Bulls have made college commitments for next year, with more to be announced over the coming weeks. Two former Bulls – Mitchell Parsons and Josh Benson – have also announced college commitments for next season, and four current Bulls players will start the upcoming year in the North American Hockey League on tender agreements.
2018-19 season tickets are on sale now, with full-season packages available for just $200. A 15-percent early-bird discount remains active for tickets that are purchased and paid in full by the end of this month, with a 10-percent discount valid through the month of April. 10-game voucher packs are available for just $85 for next season. For more information on 2018-19 season tickets, click here or call the Bulls office at 641-423-GOAL.