Special teams handled the scoring in the first 40 minutes of the North Iowa Bulls' 4-1 win over Twin City Friday night, before a couple of even-strength goals for the Bulls put the game away and put North Iowa within a win of the NA3HL West Division Finals. A too-many-men penalty on the Steel gave the home team the opening they needed to get on the board, and Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, MN) continued a red-hot scoring streak with the opening goal of the night. Gravelle took a Tommy Heinzman (St. Louis, MO) pass in the low slot and put away a wrister above Parker Butler's shoulder pads at the 17:37 mark of the first period to take a 1-0 lead into the locker room. A goal and an assist for the night gives Gravelle 19 points over the Bulls' eight-game winning streak.
The Bulls nearly killed off Tyler Johnson's (Bloomington, MN) roughing infraction as the second period got underway, but with 31 seconds remaining in the 5-on-4, Joe Costello slid one in under Chris Amsden (St. Peter, MN) right at the top of the crease, and the Steel took back momentum with a 1-1 tie. That momentum swing would be short-lived, thanks to a second power play goal just 3:36 later, as Joe Burgmeier (Mason City, IA) took a feed on the left doorstep and snapped the puck top shelf past Butler to take back the lead.
"That bounce-back goal was big for us," said head coach Todd Sanden. "You look at our power play opportunities and we were 2-for-3 before the midpoint of the game. I'd have liked to have a few more opportunities to add some more goals on special teams, but I thought our kill was pretty good. Special teams was a big impact tonight."
The one-goal lead would become a two-goal lead at the 1:25 mark of the third period, as a rebound came right out in front to Conor Durgan (St. Johns, MI), who slid it past Butler for a 3-1 lead. The Twin City netminder would come off the ice a couple of times in the final two minutes, and the Steel nearly kept the puck out of the net throughout the final seconds. A 160-foot shot from Joe Kleven (Prior Lake, MN) went into the empty net at the other end with five seconds to go, though, and North Iowa finished off its playoff-opening win in front of 1,359 fans at the North Iowa Ice Arena.
"I thought we were pretty good with that top line giving us a lot of jump in the game," said Sanden. "They created a lot of chances and buried a couple for us tonight. The defense I thought was pretty solid too – they got pucks quickly in the defensive zone and transitioned quickly to get pucks out."
Amsden stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced in the game, while Butler held out 45 of the 48 shots he saw. North Iowa won four of its eight regular-season meetings against the Steel, plus a shootout loss on January 2, but the Bulls can put away Twin City for the third time in the last four years in the 3HL playoffs with a win tomorrow night in White Bear Lake. The opening faceoff is set for 7 p.m., with a live audio webcast starting at 6:45. Click here to listen