MASON CITY, Iowa – With a North American Tier 3 Hockey League West Division championship in sight, “magic numbers” are all the rage right now for the North Iowa Bulls and Granite City Lumberjacks.
Whichever team takes the title, though, will need to create a little magic of its own.
North Iowa cast the first spell on Friday night, fighting off the Lumberjacks for a 3-2 victory and dropping their magic number to six points in their quest for an eighth division championship in 10 years. With every game the rest of the way against Granite City, the win puts North Iowa within either two victories from a title, or a regulation victory and another Granite City regulation loss.
The Bulls grabbed control early, with a cross-ice feed out of the North Iowa zone from Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) catching Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) on the left wing. Newpower won the footrace to the net, switching to his backhand and roofing the puck past Bailey Huber at the 6:47 mark for a 1-0 Bulls lead.
Granite City did its damage on the power play – after a hooking call against Jase Sofo (Sylvania, Ohio/Amarillo Bulls), Braeden Bartoo turned around in the right-wing faceoff circle and snapped a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) to tie the game at 1-1 with 9:38 remaining in the period.
The Bulls took the shots-on-goal lead by a 17-7 margin after one period, and took the lead for good in the second. North Iowa’s only power play chance came off of a tripping call against Kullen Daikawa 1:08 into the second period, and with 12 seconds remaining on the man-advantage, Jorgenson threw one past Huber at the back post to give the Bulls the 2-1 advantage.
A pile of bodies near the net gave the Bulls some cover in making the game a 3-1 contest – with Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) looking to sweep home a chance in front, Huber blocked the shot, but Matthew Metsa got Smith spun around and pushed to the ice on top of Huber to his left of the net. However, the puck remained free in front, and Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) shoved the puck into the net for a 3-1 lead just 5:30 out of the break.
Another power play late in the second period opened another door for the Lumberjacks – Caleb Huffman’s (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA) cross-checking call with 3:34 to go set the Lumberjacks up with another look on the power play, and Carson Simon got one too many looks from the right-wing faceoff dot, firing one past Gutjahr with 2:44 remaining in the second to trim the Bulls’ lead to 3-2.
No scoring in the third, however, did not necessarily mean a lack of fireworks. Each team saw a player sent to the showers early, starting with Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears), who picked up a five-minute major on a heavy check in the Granite City zone with 4:43 remaining. Zach Kilen followed for the visitors with 2:53 remaining, earning a minor and misconduct for attempting to spear Huffman behind the play.
Jorgenson closed out the night with a goal and an assist to lead the scoring effort for the Bulls, who moved to 26-9-1-1 for the season, while Granite City fell to 23-10-0-1. Gutjahr made 25 saves in earning his seventh win of the season, while Huber made 34 saves in the loss.
The power play units were electric, with the Bulls capitalizing on their only chance of the night and Granite City earning a 2-for-4 finish with the extra man.
The Bulls and Lumberjacks face off for perhaps their final time in Mason City on Saturday night as North Iowa closes out its Autism Speaks jersey auction weekend. The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and 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 team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Granite City 1 1 0 – 2
North Iowa 1 2 0 – 3
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Newpower 12 (Jorgenson, Nauss), 6:47. 2, Granite City, Bartoo 8 (Metsa, Cromwell), 10:22 (PP). Penalties-Sofo Nio (hooking-minor), 9:00.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Jorgenson 9 (Isogai, Jones), 2:56 (PP). 4, North Iowa, Freeman 16 (Campion, Smith), 5:30. 5, Granite City, Simon 19 (O’Leary, Cromwell), 17:16 (PP). Penalties-Daikawa Gcy (tripping-minor), 1:08; Huffman Nio (cross checking-minor), 16:26.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Sullivan Nio (holding-minor), 4:29; Jones Nio (head contact-major, head contact-gm), 15:17; Kilen Gcy (spearing-minor, spearing-10 misc), 17:07.
Shots on Goal-Granite City 7-15-5-27. North Iowa 17-13-7-37.
Power Play Opportunities-Granite City 2 / 4; North Iowa 1 / 1.
Goalies-Granite City, Huber 13-4-0-1 (37 shots-34 saves). North Iowa, Gutjahr 7-1-1-0 (27 shots-25 saves).
Linesmen-Gabe Halonen, Gerard Lamoureux.