PEORIA, Ill. – To describe the North Iowa Bulls’ special teams on Sunday, you’d need an entire thesaurus.
And yes, definitely special.
The Bulls’ power play dropped three goals on the Peoria Mustangs during a 6-2 matinee victory, putting the team at 4-0 ahead of a weekend battle for first place next weekend at arch-rival Granite City.
“We were just moving the puck, getting it around the point,” said Nico Aguilera (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville South H.S.). “We got shots on net and it was going in.”
It didn’t take long for the special teams to get clicking – just 66 seconds into the game, Peoria’s Connor Bennett put the Bulls on the power play for the first time with a two-minute elbowing minor. That power play unit was on the ice for 34 seconds before Sean Sullivan (Middleton, Wis./Madison Capitols 18U) walked into the left-wing faceoff circle and slid in the game’s opening goal under Cole Walter. Aguilera added his first North Iowa goal with under five minutes left in the period, also on the man-advantage.
Austin Keil snapped one into the top corner of the goal with 8:04 left in the second period, putting the Mustangs on the board. Zachary Simon (Orono, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) came up with the response just 73 seconds later, though, beating Walter from the right side. Sullivan added his second goal, also on the power play, on a wrist shot through traffic within three minutes of Keil’s strike.
“We’re just keeping it simple, talking and communicating and moving pucks out,” said Sullivan. “If the chance is there, we just bury it.”
Zachary Eddington cut the lead to 4-2 at the 6:15 mark of the third period, but Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./Albert Lea H.S.) was able to set up Simon for a response with 5:30 remaining. Rolling into the Mustangs’ zone, Simon leaned on his back foot and let fly a wrist shot from the top half of the right-wing faceoff circle.
That brought Walter’s day to an end, but Gardner’s brief entry into the game was no more successful. On the very next shift for both, Cichosz and Simon traded places, with Cichosz blasting his first junior goal past Gardner at 17:11 of the final period.
“It was super awesome,” said Cichosz. “I just picked up the puck in a light scrum in the neutral zone and it ended up going in. I was just shooting it low, for a rebound.”
Simon ended the game with two goals and an assist, followed by Sullivan, who had a pair of goals. Cichosz’s two points in the final period was his haul for the day, rounding out an outstanding debut weekend with the Bulls. Keil had a goal and an assist for the Mustangs in the loss.
In all, North Iowa totaled up a 3-for-6 mark on the power play Sunday afternoon, keeping Peoria out of the net on all of its six chances with the extra man. Dysen Skinner (Billings, Mont./North Iowa Bulls) earned the win with 24 saves on 26 Peoria shots in his return to the Bulls’ lineup. Each of the Bulls’ four goaltenders has played in and won a game for the team thus far.
Both the Bulls and Granite City will head into next weekend’s pivotal early-season set with unbeaten records, as the Lumberjacks host the first two of their eight games this season against North Iowa. Friday and Saturday’s opening puck drops are both scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota.
Tickets are available now for the Bulls’ final home opener in the North Iowa Ice Arena, October 4 against the Willmar WarHawks. The last home-opening bash at the “Barn” will feature a pregame tailgate party, a postgame skate, free koozies with all paid adult admissions and more. The latest news and information on Bulls hockey is always available by calling 641-423-4625, visiting www.northiowabulls.com, or following the Bulls on social media. To purchase advance tickets to any Bulls home game this season, click here.
North Iowa 2 2 2 – 6
Peoria 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Sullivan 1 (Hempel, Callahan), 1:40 (PP). 2, North Iowa, Aguilera 1 (Roo, Kubitz), 15:06 (PP). Penalties-Bennett Peo (elbowing-minor), 1:06; Nauss Nio (tripping-minor), 3:07; Trudel Peo (interference-minor), 7:20; Fagerlee Nio (kneeing-minor), 8:57; Bennett Peo (checking from behind-minor), 14:33; Aguilera Nio (hooking-minor), 15:46; Enright Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 19:40; Keil Peo (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 19:40; Trudel Peo (cross checking-minor), 19:40.
2nd Period-3, Peoria, Keil 3 (Bihun), 11:57. 4, North Iowa, Simon 2 (Enright, Smidt), 13:14. 5, North Iowa, Sullivan 2 (Roo, Hempel), 14:33 (PP). Penalties-Swearingen Peo (unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 2:35; Bland Peo (high sticking-minor), 14:06; Trudel Peo (unsportsmanlike conduct-10 minute misconduct), 14:06.
3rd Period-6, Peoria, Eddington 2 (Keil), 6:17. 7, North Iowa, Simon 3 (Kubitz, Cichosz), 14:30. 8, North Iowa, Cichosz 1 (Simon), 17:01. Penalties-Roitman Nio (tripping-minor), 4:27; Wisely Peo (slashing-minor), 5:39; Smidt Nio (high sticking-minor), 9:44; Smidt Nio (head contact-minor), 18:51.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-9-11-31. Peoria 9-9-8-26.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 3 / 4; Peoria 0 / 4.
Goalies-North Iowa, Skinner 1-0-0-0 (26 shots-24 saves). Peoria, Walter 1-2-0-0 (28 shots-23 saves); Gardner 1-1-0-0 (3 shots-2 saves).
Linesmen-Matt Bleck, Richard Faron.