Post Game 3-31
ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – The North Iowa Bulls can say their 2016-17 season ended on a win, but the Bulls certainly weren’t hoping to do it on the final night of pool play at the NA3HL Silver Cup national championship tournament. North Iowa powered through the Long Beach Sharks on Friday night with an 8-4 win, rolling early with four goals in the opening 7:33 of the game.
The defending champs’ luck officially ran out early in the third period, though, when Binghamton finished off their 3-2 win over Yellowstone. That locked North Iowa out of the number-2 seed in Pool B and spelled the end of the Bulls’ season. It’s the first time in North Iowa’s five straight trips to the Silver Cup tournament that they will not play on the season’s final day.
Of the opening four goals of the game, Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) had two and capitalized early on a turnover at the half-boards in the Sharks’ end to create the first chance. After a quick walk to the net, Clemons buried a short snap to give the Bulls the lead just 47 seconds in.
Owen Larson (Minneapolis, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) would double the lead just 89 seconds into the game, and Mitch Dolter‘s (Faribault, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s) tally at 5:02 of the opening period would chase starting Long Beach netminder Zach Young. Clemons was also the first to beat reliever Kyle Van Wagner, with Marshall Barnes‘s (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) toss back to Clemons in front setting up his second goal at the 7:33 mark.
Carmine Taffo opened the scoring for Long Beach with 1:04 remaining in the first period, and the teams traded tallies from there. The lead never rose to more than four the rest of the way, and the Sharks trimmed it to a pair on Gunther Stange’s goal 9:24 into the second. North Iowa built it right back, with Dolter earning his second goal at 15:16 of the second period. The lead was 6-2 heading to the third after Clemons’s hat-trick goal with 3:26 remaining before the intermission.
A holding penalty to Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./Bismarck Bobcats) led to the only power-play tally on the night for either team – record-breaking Sharks forwards Oskar Lindberg and Martins Vitolins combined on the goal just 50 seconds into the third period for the final points of their storied junior careers. Again the lead climbed to four, with Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./Dallas Stars Elite) burying the last goal of his freshman season with the Bulls at 7:54.
One more tit-for-tat run resulted in the final 10 minutes of the game, starting with Phil Garcia’s snipe past Drew Scites (Plymouth, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) at the 10:33 mark of the third. The curtain came down on the North Iowa season with a textbook one-timer at the top of the Long Beach crease with 2:57 to go. Just as it was in Friday’s overtime winner, Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) led the way up the left half before setting up Nick Klishko (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) to finish off the play on the doorstep.
There were plenty of tears at the end of the contest, but plenty of joy as well – head coach Todd Sanden sent all five of his 1996-born players onto the ice for the final shift of the season, giving each a final sendoff in front of a raucous and partisan pro-North Iowa crowd.
“Last year, I didn’t even really want to come here, and I ended up being part of a great group and got a ring,” said Larson. “It means the world to be a part of a group where all 25 guys are my 25 new best friends. I’ll have them for life and it’s not always about the trophies and the rings. It’s about those memories that are never really going to go away for me. I just pray that they can get it done next year.”
Scites made 23 saves on Long Beach’s 27 shots, and it was Van Wagner who took the loss after giving up five goals on the 38 shots he saw. Young faced just eight North Iowa chances and stopped only five.
Despite the loss, it’s hard to overstate the success of this year’s Bulls team, a group that won its fifth consecutive division championship and reached its fifth straight Silver Cup championship tournament. North Iowa ends the season with a 41-11-1-1 record. A pair of early stars – veteran forward Kohei Sato and first-year goaltender Josh Benson – left the team for the North American Hockey League during the year and quickly became NAHL stars in their own right.
2017-18 season tickets are on sale now – adult season tickets for all 22 home games next year are just $200, or reserve a family’s worth of season tickets for just $500. 10-game flex vouchers are also available for just $85. For more information, or to reserve your 2017-18 season tickets in “The Barn,” click here.