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NEW ULM, Minn. – After stepping off the ice with losses in five of their last seven games, a North Iowa Bulls win against the New Ulm Steel on Friday night was much-needed for a number of reasons.
After coming up short in a loss to the Willmar WarHawks on Sunday evening, the Bulls finally got the win they wanted, defeating New Ulm 3-2 and locking up home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Fraser Cup West Division Playoffs.
The Steel grabbed the lead first, though, at 6:17 of the first period, when Zach Maillette swooped into the zone and fired a well-screened shot from the top corner of the right-wing faceoff circle that beat Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) for a 1-0 lead. North Iowa enjoyed a few nominal advantages in the opening 20 minutes, taking the shots-on-goal lead by a 10-8 count and killing off the only New Ulm power play of the first period.
The second period started with a bang, thanks to a roughing call against Teddy Lillico – after starting the play behind the Bulls’ goal line, a pass from Caleb Huffman (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA) caught Brayden Uttech (Sun Prairie, Wis./Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings) on the run, and he streaked into the Steel end and popped one off the roof of the net at 2:37 to tie the game at 1-1.
North Iowa nearly held the tie through the intermission, but New Ulm grabbed it back with just 1:20 to go, when Jacob Zowin picked his way to the left-wing faceoff circle and snapped one past Gutjahr on his glove side to grab the 2-1 lead.
After posting 24 shots to New Ulm’s 15 in the opening two periods, North Iowa wiped out the lead again at 4:46 of the third period on another power play, this time after a slashing call against Lillico. Just seconds into the second Bulls power play of the night, Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong-Cooper H.S.) found Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) in the slot, who peeked around a glut of bodies in front to slip one past Griffin Foster for a 2-2 tie.
77 seconds later, the lead belonged to the Bulls for good – a pass from Sean Sullivan (Middleton, Wis./North Iowa Bulls) at the left point found Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) at the right-wing faceoff dot, and Newpower teed up a one-timer that rocketed past Foster for the 3-2 lead.
The Steel turned up the heat in the final 14 minutes, but only managed three shots on goal in the final period in the loss. North Iowa enjoyed a perfect night on the special teams, even if the sample size was a bit small, going 2-for-2 on the power play and 1-for-1 on the penalty kill.
Gutjahr made 19 saves on 21 New Ulm shots to earn his fifth win of the season, while Foster fell back to 4-6-1 on the year with 39 saves on 42 North Iowa opportunities. Uttech enjoyed a three-point outing in his first full game in seven weeks, following injuries that have kept him out of the lineup since mid-January.
“It feels amazing,” said Uttech. “It feels electric to be back with the boys, and I’m really excited to see what we can do these next few weeks and go on a really good run.”
With the victory, the Bulls lock in a top-two divisional finish for the 10th consecutive year, though New Ulm received a little help from Granite City thanks to their win over the Alexandria Blizzard. New Ulm remains alive in the race for the West Division’s fourth and final playoff spot, though a win of any kind for the Blizzard or a regulation loss for the Steel will conclude that race.
North Iowa will hunt for a weekend sweep when they return to the New Ulm Civic Center on Saturday night, with the opening puck drop scheduled for 7:10 p.m. and live streaming coverage available on HockeyTV.
The Bulls return home for a jersey auction weekend March 19 and 20 against the Granite City Lumberjacks – the Bulls will wear special jerseys against the Lumberjacks to benefit Autism Speaks, with the jersey auction conducted online through DASH Auction the week of the games. To purchase tickets to those two contests, click here.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa 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 0 1 2 – 3
New Ulm 1 1 0 – 2
1st Period-1, New Ulm, Maillette 9 (Saver, Albrecht), 6:17. Penalties-Triemert Nio (checking from behind-minor), 7:25.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, Uttech 8 (Huffman), 2:19 (PP). 3, New Ulm, Zowin 3 (Looft, Spaargaren), 18:40. Penalties-Lillico Num (roughing-minor), 1:46; Freeman Nio (roughing-minor), 17:21; Dorn Num (roughing-minor), 17:21.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Smith 10 (Campion, Uttech), 4:43 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Newpower 11 (Sullivan, Uttech), 6:06. Penalties-Lillico Num (slashing-minor), 4:36.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 12-15-15-42. New Ulm 10-8-3-21.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 2 / 2; New Ulm 0 / 1.
Goalies-North Iowa, Gutjahr 5-1-1-0 (21 shots-19 saves). New Ulm, Foster 4-6-1-0 (42 shots-39 saves).
Linesmen-Gerard Lamoureux, Tyler Willie.