MASON CITY, Iowa – Looking at the scoreboard, one would think the North Iowa Bulls didn’t start all that well after giving up a couple of early goals to the Peoria Mustangs on Saturday night.
Good thing the Bulls have never forgotten that hockey games last 60 minutes. After those initial two tallies, North Iowa racked up eight unanswered goals for an 8-2 victory, closing out home-ice advantage in next week’s opening round of the NA3HL West Division playoffs.
Top-shelf goals from Connor Bennett and Jack Radley got the night started right for the Mustangs, with Bennett getting on the board over the right shoulder of Dysen Skinner (Billings, Mont./Sioux Falls Jr. Stampede 18U) just 55 seconds into Saturday’s contest. Radley’s goal beat Babekuhl glove size at the 11:21 mark of the period for a 2-0 lead.
A rebound goal from Jimmy McDermott (Dubuque, Iowa/Wisconsin Whalers) with 4:45 remaining in the first period, though, lit the match for the hosts. Evan Junker’s (Elk River, Minn./Elk River H.S.) drive set up McDermott for his fourth goal of the weekend, and third on a Peoria rebound.
That goal made it a 2-1 contest in favor of Peoria, but it was no contest after that. Back-to-back goals from Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in the opening 5:23 of the second period tied the game and then gave the Bulls the lead. Fagerlee’s first goal beat Luke Weberg low on a one-on-the-goalie chance, and a pass from Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./North Iowa Bulls) set up Fagerlee’s second goal on the right wing.
The momentum was firmly in the Bulls’ favor just 65 seconds later, when Hank Nagel’s (Mound, Minn./Mound-Westonka H.S.) goal pushed the lead to 4-2. His goal from the point beat Weberg on the stick side for a two-goal lead.
A turnover in the neutral zone allowed the Bulls to score with 1:01 left in the period for a 5-2 lead at the intermission. Jarod Blackowiak (Eden Prairie, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) took control of the puck in front of the penalty boxes, jogging the puck into the Peoria zone. The second-year Bull found Joey Petronack (White Bear Lake, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.) on the weak side to put away the one-timer.
The Bulls out-shot Peoria 30-9 over the final 40 minutes of the contest, and put two away in the last three minutes to put an exclamation mark on the regular season. That final push included a power play goal for Jack Kubitz (Long Lake, Minn./Orono H.S.), in his North Iowa debut.
Jack Giddings (Anoka, Minn./Anoka H.S.) punched one in on a third-chance rebound at 8:43 of the third period, running the lead to 6-2. Kubitz buried a tough-angle try from the right wing with 25 seconds remaining in North Iowa’s first power play of the night, and Nick Bowlin (Oakdale, Minn./Tartan H.S.) closed out the regular season by tossing one in the back of the net with 51 seconds to go.
Skinner earned his 18th win of the season, notching 19 saves on 21 Mustang scoring chances. Weberg ended the regular season with a loss, dropping to 3-5 for the season. The Bulls head to the postseason with a record of 32-12-3-0, while Peoria heads out of the regular season at 26-18-2-1, with losses in six of their final seven.
North Iowa returns home for the last game of a six-game homestand on Friday night, opening the NA3HL playoffs against the Rochester Grizzlies, who lost 7-1 to the Coulee Region Chill in their regular-season finale. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. at the North Iowa Ice Arena. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV, with free streaming coverage available on Mixlr. To purchase tickets in advance for Friday’s playoff game or any future Bulls home game, click here.
Peoria 2 0 0 – 2
North Iowa 1 4 3 – 8
1st Period-1, Peoria, Bennett 11 (Radley, Keil), 0:55. 2, Peoria, Radley 34 (Eddington, Keil), 11:21. 3, North Iowa, McDermott 22 (Junker, Blackowiak), 15:15. Penalties-Studioso Nio (high sticking-minor), 19:50.
2nd Period-4, North Iowa, Fagerlee 21 (Junker, Dahlseide), 2:11. 5, North Iowa, Fagerlee 22 (Verstegen), 5:23. 6, North Iowa, Nagel 3 (Dahlseide, Rozman), 6:28. 7, North Iowa, Petronack 5 (Blackowiak, Studioso), 18:59. Penalties-Junker Nio (slashing-minor), 19:54.
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Giddings 13 (Roo, Bogach), 8:43. 9, North Iowa, Kubitz 1 (Wagner, Bowlin), 17:04 (PP). 10, North Iowa, Bowlin 6 (Dahlseide, Bogach), 19:09. Penalties-Keil Peo (cross checking-minor), 15:29; Radley Peo (roughing-minor), 19:09.
Shots on Goal-Peoria 12-6-3-21. North Iowa 18-12-18-48.
Power Play Opportunities-Peoria 0 / 2; North Iowa 1 / 2.
Goalies-Peoria, Weberg 3-5-0-0 (48 shots-40 saves). North Iowa, Skinner 18-6-2-0 (21 shots-19 saves).
Linesmen-Grant Crowell, Matthew Borgen.