ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – Chances for redemption are short in a best-of-3 playoff series, but memories don’t necessarily have to be short as well. The North Iowa Bulls controlled the tempo of Friday’s game against the Alexandria Blizzard, putting 42 shots on net but scoring just once in an overtime loss.
North Iowa certainly did not forget the feeling after Friday’s game, nor did they forget the improvements they needed to make in order to win on the road on Saturday.
The Bulls blasted out to a lead just 1:43 into Saturday’s contest and never looked back, tying their Fraser Cup West Division semifinal with the Blizzard at a game apiece, with a decisive Game 3 set for Easter Sunday back in Mason City. That lead came on an early pileup in front of the Alexandria net, with Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) pushing the puck through the carnage in front of the cage for the early go-ahead goal.
The Bulls doubled their lead at 8:06 of the opening stanza, with Caleb Huffman (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA) unable to find a passing partner on the weak side on a jog down the left-wing boards. Instead, Huffman drove below the goal line, and caromed a centering attempt into the net off of Blizzard netminder Atticus Kelly for the 2-0 advantage.
“I kept looking, kept looking, kept going wide,” said Huffman. “I couldn’t find anyone, so I ended up throwing it on the net and found a little hole there. I thought, ‘Why not?’ You’ve got to get pucks to the net to score.”
The teams came in determined to play a rapid pace, and the first period saw some fireworks as well, when Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) took an uncalled slash off of a draw in the Blizzard end of the rink. Jones caught up to Alexandria’s Carter Rieland back in the Bulls half of the rink, and the two quickly came to blows, ending each man’s night just 10:14 in.
Brayden Uttech’s (Sun Prairie, Wis./Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings) holding minor at 14:22 of the period put Alexandria on the game’s first power play, which lasted only 15 seconds before Dallas Duckson banged in the rebound on Kaden Peterson’s shot from the right wing, trimming the lead to 2-1.
North Iowa made sure the Blizzard’s momentum swing was a brief one – just 1:15 later, Huffman threw another one on net from the left wing that Kelly stopped, but the rebound bounced out front to Nick Mohs-Messerli (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) for the extra poke, reclaiming the Bulls’ two-goal lead.
After out-shooting Alexandria 16-10 in the first period, the Bulls added on with a 14-9 margin in the second. A wraparound goal from Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.) extended the lead to 4-1 just 2:02 into the second, with Kelly caught on his left post and unable to come back across in time to shut down Savaloja’s opportunity.
With Austin McNeil in the box on a tripping minor, North Iowa whizzed the puck around the Blizzard zone, and Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) connected on a backdoor one-timer from Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) at 4:11, with just 31 seconds remaining on their first full-length power play of the night.
Neither team found the scoreboard again, with the Bulls missing on their next six power play chances. Alexandria got three power plays in the final 40 minutes, including a double-minor against Huffman for slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct. In the end, North Iowa would go 1-for-8 on the power play, while Alexandria would go 1-for-5.
Kelly made just 13 saves, taking the loss and exiting the game after Newpower’s power play goal. Bailey Rosch stepped into the net in relief, stopping all 20 shots he saw in 35 minutes of work. Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) allowed only the one goal, making 27 saves for his first postseason victory.
Huffman, Newpower and Savaloja closed the night with a goal and an assist apiece for North Iowa, but Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) topped them all with three assists.
“This (game) shows that we’re the better team, and we’ve just got to come out and bring it tomorrow, and we’ll come away with a win,” said Huffman.
The victory puts the Bulls in a decisive Game 3 for a spot in the West Division Finals, the second postseason in a row that the Bulls have hosted a Game 3 matchup in the division semifinals. The winner of Sunday’s game will face the Willmar WarHawks, who earned their first-ever postseason series win by sweeping the second-seeded Granite City Lumberjacks. North Iowa is 3-1 all-time in decisive Game 3 scenarios, with all three wins coming on home ice.
Sunday’s game gets underway at 5:30 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. Click here to purchase tickets for Sunday’s game.
2021-22 season tickets are now on sale, as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League. Updated news and information on the 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.
North Iowa 3 2 0 – 5
Alexandria 1 0 0 – 1
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Freeman 2 (Savaloja, Isogai), 1:43. 2, North Iowa, Huffman 1 (Smith, Campion), 8:06. 3, Alexandria, Duckson 1 (Peterson, Jacobs), 14:37 (PP). 4, North Iowa, Mohs-Messerli 1 (Huffman, Newpower), 15:52. Penalties-Jones Nio (fighting-major, fighting-ej), 10:16; Rieland Alx (fighting-major, fighting-ej), 10:16; Uttech Nio (holding-minor), 14:22; Savaloja Nio (tripping-minor), 19:13; Rajala Alx (tripping-minor), 19:43.
2nd Period-5, North Iowa, Savaloja 1 (Isogai), 2:01. 6, North Iowa, Newpower 1 (Heffron, Isogai), 4:11 (PP). Penalties-McNeil Alx (tripping-minor), 2:42; Duckson Alx (interference-minor), 4:22; Huffman Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor, slashing-minor), 6:08; Tushie Alx (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 10:48; Tushie Alx (cross checking-minor), 14:37; Rosch Alx (delay of game-minor), 16:12.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Strong Alx (holding-minor), 8:58; Nauss Nio (holding-minor), 13:03; McNeil Alx (hooking-minor), 15:38.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 16-14-8-38. Alexandria 10-9-9-28.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 8; Alexandria 1 / 5.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes (28 shots-27 saves). Alexandria, Kelly (18 shots-13 saves); Rosch (20 shots-20 saves).
Linesmen-Kendall Hanley, Michael Ifkovits.