SATURDAY – Rochester @ North Iowa, 7:30 p.m
TONIGHT’S PROMOTIONS: The Bulls are wearing special jerseys this weekend to honor its past and present players, to be auctioned off after tonight’s game to benefit the North Iowa Youth Center. It is also Scout Night, as the Bulls honor the scouting community in north-central Iowa. For a schedule of upcoming promotions, click here.
IT’S A BIG WORLD OUT THERE: The first game in Mason City’s new downtown arena was a box-office smash for the Bulls – Friday’s contest drew 2,058 fans, more than 400 more than the previous mark for the most fans to witness a hockey game in Mason City. North Iowa’s first game at the Mason City Arena out-drew all three of the other junior hockey games in Iowa (United States Hockey League games in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and Des Moines), and all but one game in the North American Hockey League (Shreveport).
ZEROED OUT: North Iowa has been on a defensive tear as the calendar flips to 2020, tacking last night’s shutout against Breezy Point on to back-to-back shutouts against Elmira and Texas at the NA3HL Showcase. The last goal the Bulls have allowed came less than six minutes into their opening contest at the Showcase against the Bozeman Ice Dogs, giving North Iowa’s goaltenders a scoreless streak of more than 214 minutes entering the evening. Joe Daninger has pitched back-to-back shutouts, and Evan Babekuhl shut down Texas’s offense in a 4-0 win in Blaine as well.
DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS: North Iowa enters the evening with some of the best defensive marks in the NA3HL, allowing fewer than two goals per game and just over 24 shots on goal per night. The former mark is second-best in the NA3HL, and the latter mark ranks third. Rochester has kept pace with the Bulls in that department, however, allowing fewer than 24 shots a night for the second-best ranking in the league. Grizzlies opponents have allowed just two goals per game, ranking one spot behind North Iowa. Much of the credit goes to the two goaltenders – Mathias Backstrom’s goals-against average of 1.28 is far and away the league’s best, and Shane Soderwall’s 2.22 goals-against mark is also in the top 10.
TOP OF THE HEAP: The Bulls have made a habit of playing the best competition they can find over the team’s nine years in the league, and the team often finds itself up against the top teams in other divisions thanks to its matchups at the NA3HL’s annual Showcase. With Rochester’s climb into first place in the Central Division, the Grizzlies become the fourth first-place team that the Bulls have faced this season (St. Louis was in first place at the time of their October matchup with the Bulls). Bozeman faced the Bulls at the Showcase, carrying the league’s best record at the time, and Texas remains in first place in the South. Elmira was no longer atop the Northeast Division when they met the Bulls in Blaine, but has moved back atop the division standings.