MASON CITY, IOWA – An eight-game homestand ended for the North Iowa Bulls Saturday night, as Granite City left town with a 4-1 loss and fell back into second place in the NA3HL's Western Division. The win not only keeps North Iowa perfect at home this season, but extends the team's overall home winning streak (including playoffs) to 23 games.
Just like the previous night's 6-1 win over the Lumberjacks, an early goal set the tone, with defenseman Sam Naegele (Coon Rapids, MN) sniping one past Granite City netminder Jesse Garcia from inside the left faceoff circle at the 2:02 mark of the first period. Unlike the previous night's game, their visitors had an answer before the intermission – Jared Sprink slipped one in past winning goalie Tommi Ahlgren (Tampere, Finland) with just under three minutes to go in the period.
This time, a three-goal second period would carry the Bulls to a victory, with Austin Jackson (Waterloo, IA) in front at the 4:30 mark to blast home the eventual game-winning goal on a play that began with a broken-stick slap shot at the right point by Joe Kleven (Prior Lake, MN). Dylan Zins (Prior Lake, MN) scored his only goal of the night at 10:49 of the period on a cross-ice feed into the right faceoff circle to give the Bulls the insurance goal, and a 2-on-1 slapshot from Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, MN) with 1:45 left in the period ended the scoring for the night.
"It seems like, especially lately, the second period has been our strongest period in goal production," said head coach Todd Sanden. Five goals would highlight Friday night's win over the Lumberjacks.
The score wouldn't rise in the third, but the temperature climbed a bit between the teams – referee Cory Denback doled out 15 penalties in the final period, including five pairs of coincidental minor infractions. Once again, the Bulls held the advantage on special teams, taking advantage of a Luke Richardson cross checking penalty to get the only powerplay tally of the night for either team on Jackson's marker early in the second. Ahlgren stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced in the game to move his record to 6-1-0 for the year.
The win moves North Iowa back ahead of Granite City in the standings, giving Sanden's team a 15-4-0 mark heading out of the weekend and pushing Granite City to a 14-4-0 record.
"You've got Granite City and North Iowa. You know they're going to be great hockey games," said Sanden. "I thought both teams went up and down the rink and competed really hard. I feel blessed that we're where we are right now."
With the end of North Iowa's first homestand of 2014-15, the Bulls head to Breezy Point to square off against the North Stars next Friday and Saturday. Opening faceoffs both nights are scheduled for 7 p.m. in Breezy Point, MN.