MINOT, N.D. – North Iowa stretched its lead to two goals on three separate occasions on Saturday night, but the Minot Minotauros were never willing to let the Bulls truly put them away in their final regular-season meeting at Maysa Arena this season. In the end, the clock ended up helping to put the home team away and North Iowa held off a spirited push from the Minotauros for a 5-4 victory in a pivotal North American Hockey League Central Division game.
One night after the Minotauros posted the first nine shots on goal on the way to a 4-1 win, it was the Bulls who had the early bounce in their step, thanks to Byron Hartley’s (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) goal just 55 seconds into the game, off of a setup pass out front from Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls).
Minot tied the game seven minutes later, with 12 seconds remaining on a 5-on-3 power play – with Logan Dombrowsky (Stevens Point, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) and Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) both serving penalties, Dean Schwenninger slid a pass in front of Hudson Hodges (Moorhead, Minn./Austin Bruins) for Connor McGrath’s point-blank tap-in, and the Minotauros tied the game at 7:55 of the period.
A Bulls offense known for quick strikes doubled up in a 45-second span later in the first – Sean Vlasich’s (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) point shot from the left wing clipped Dombrowsky’s stick in front of the net for a redirect past Carter Clafton and a 2-1 lead with 8:09 left in the period. On the very next shift, North Iowa criss-crossed the puck across the slot with a tic-tac-toe pass finding Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) on the backdoor for a quick toss into the net and a two-goal North Iowa lead.
The Bulls took a 10-7 shots-on-goal advantage out of the first period, but Minot tacked on 20 shots of their own in the second period. On the very first rush into the North Iowa zone, Braden Panzer banged in a rebound off of an initial shot from Joe Westlund just 17 seconds out of the intermission, cutting the lead back to 3-2.
North Iowa scored another one at the 55-second mark, as Rapalje snapped one past Clafton through the five-hole for a 4-2 North Iowa lead. That goal chased Clafton from the game, and Austin Zavoda stepped onto the ice after making 26 saves the previous night for his first NAHL win.
“We scored the shift right after a goal, and that’s a good way to take momentum back,” said Hartley. “Anything that they did, we countered so much harder (than Friday). I think that’s how we got such a big win.”
The Bulls maintained that two-goal lead for most of the second period, but Minot trimmed it back to a one-goal game with less than 90 seconds left, when Cole Mickel’s shot from the left point sneaked into the net with a couple of bodies screening Hodges in front.
North Iowa racked up 18 shots on net in the third, but picked up its fifth goal in reasonably short order – Zavoda stopped two quick shots but left a rebound out front, and Hartley was able to spin around a defender and stuff home the extra chance at 1:41 of the third. The Minotauros stepped up their pressure after cutting the lead back to a goal with 9:10 left, as Colby Joseph stuffed home a rebound out front from Mickel’s initial chance. Zavoda left the net with 1:58 remaining for the extra attacker, but the Bulls held on for the victory, snapping a three-game skid.
Hartley posted two goals and an assist, bumping him to a team-high five goals against the Minotauros for the season. Rapalje had a goal and two assists, and Mesic had a pair of assists of his own. Mickel had a goal and an assist, while Westlund and Graham Skinner had two assists apiece for Minot in the loss.
“I think we just played faster (than them),” said Rapalje. “We were just moving pucks, getting a lot of shots and getting a lot of traffic (in front of the net).
After picking up 18 wins over a season-and-a-half as an Austin Bruin, Hodges earned his first Bulls victory with 39 saves, while Zavoda made 24 stops for his first NAHL loss in relief. Clafton escaped with the no-decision, making seven saves on 11 North Iowa shots. Minot went 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Bulls came up short on their own power play chance.
North Iowa continues a lengthy road swing next weekend with a visit to Bismarck and two games against the Bobcats. The opening puck drop at the V.F.W. Sports Center is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night, with live streaming coverage of both games on HockeyTV and Mixlr. The weekend at Minot began a stretch for the Bulls with nine of 11 games played away from the Mason City Arena.
Tickets to all upcoming North Iowa home games are on sale now – to purchase advance tickets to any future Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey 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 1 1 – 5
Minot 1 2 1 – 4
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Hartley 9 (Rapalje, Mesic), 0:55. 2, Minot, McGrath 8 (Schwenninger, Nielsen), 7:55 (PP). 3, North Iowa, Dombrowsky 11 (Vlasich, Japchen), 11:51. 4, North Iowa, Bulger 9 (Potter, Domina), 12:36. Penalties-Dombrowsky Nio (slashing-minor), 6:07; Mesic Nio (tripping-minor), 6:24.
2nd Period-5, Minot, Panzer 5 (Westlund, Charchenko), 0:17. 6, North Iowa, Rapalje 19 (Hartley), 0:55. 7, Minot, Mickel 9 (Westlund, Skinner), 18:32. Penalties-No Penalties
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Hartley 10 (Mesic, Rapalje), 1:41. 9, Minot, Joseph 13 (Mickel, Skinner), 10:50. Penalties-Morich Nio (tripping-minor), 6:04; Kadolph Mnt (roughing-minor), 6:04; Johnson Mnt (tripping-minor), 7:34.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 10-8-18-36. Minot 7-20-16-43.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 1; Minot 1 / 2.
Goalies-North Iowa, Hodges 10-5-1-0 (43 shots-39 saves). Minot, Clafton 8-7-1-0 (11 shots-7 saves); Zavoda 1-1-0-0 (25 shots-24 saves).
Linesmen-Gabe Halonen, Eric Steele.