Bulls hold off Shattuck-St. Mary's

MASON CITY, Iowa – The North Iowa Bulls held off one of the most storied prep hockey programs in the nation on Wednesday night in exhibition play, beating the Shattuck-St. Mary's Sabres 5-3. The Sabres have won nine USA Hockey national championships since 1999, and currently have 15 alumni on National Hockey League rosters. Austin Jackson (Waterloo, Iowa/Minnesota Magicians) ended the night with a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner with 6:40 remaining.

"This was a great game between two teams who really respect each other," said head coach Todd Sanden. I'm proud of the guys for the style of game they played tonight. They played fast and we didn't have any [extracurriculars] after the whistle. Shattuck-St. Mary's has a younger team, so we just wanted to give them a quality game and this was the kind of game the kids were excited to play beforehand, just knowing the kind of program Shattuck-St. Mary's has."

The scoring got started early, with Robert Blueger's backhand wrister from just inside the left faceoff circle. His shot beat Tommi Ahlgren (Tampere, Finland/North Iowa Bulls) over the shoulder, just 1:45 into the contest. At the 16:10 mark, though, Mitch Parsons (Grandville, Mich./Grandville HS) slid one in under the pads of Shattuck-St. Mary's netminder David Tomeo to take the game to a 1-1 tie going to the second period. A second-period goal from Vincent de Mey would make it 2-1 with a period to go, following a pass that ended up right in front of Ahlgren's left leg pad. de Mey would push it through and into the back of the net to give the Sabres their second lead of the game.

A third-period push from the Bulls would give them their first lead of the game. Jackson's pass up the right wing led Kohei Sato (Nishitokio, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) to the net, and Sato would slip the puck in past Tomeo's left skate at 1:52 of the stanza to tie the game. Just two minutes later, the Bulls would get their first lead of the night on Jackson's first tally, A right-side shot from Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) came off the chest of Tomeo right to Jackson, who blasted the long rebound in past the Sabres goalie at the 3:52 mark for a 3-2 advantage. That goal would be the only powerplay tally of the night for the Bulls as part of a 1-for-5 performance on the man-advantage. That lead would hold up for less than a minute, though, with Erik Dahl sniping in a left-wing blue-line shot over Ahlgren's right shoulder for his first goal of the year at 4:46. The big push of the night for the Bulls began at 13:20 of the third period, when a long pass from the Bulls' zone led Jackson over the blue line and into a breakaway – Tomeo's pokecheck attempt failed, and Jackson dragged the puck across the mouth of the net and backhanded it in for the 4-3 advantage. Both teams ramped up the urgency following that goal, with the Bulls looking to double their lead and Shattuck-St. Mary's attempting to erase it. North Iowa succeeded in its quest, with just 39 seconds remaining, Gravelle picked up a long clearing attempt down the ice and banked in a tough-angle empty netter to secure the win.

Jackson finished the night with two goals and an assist to take first-star honors. Gravelle ended the night with a goal and an assist. Ahlgren was stellar in net, holding 24 of Shattuck-St. Mary's 27 shots out of the North Iowa cage. Tomeo made 35 stops on 39 shots, plus the clinching goal with the extra Sabres attacker on the ice. North Iowa visits Granite City to face the NA3HL West Division-leading Granite City Lumberjacks on Friday and Saturday night.

"This was the kind of speed we need to play with every night," said Sanden. "We chipped pucks to areas where we could get to them, where recently we've been trying to stickhandle through those spots and it's been slowing down our game. If we take anything out of [tonight going into Granite City] I hope it's the speed that we played the game with."

Both games are set for 7:30 p.m. starts at the Armadillo Deck Rink at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. The next home game in Mason City is set for Friday, February 5, as the Bulls begin a home-and-home weekend set with the Twin City Steel.