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MASON CITY, Iowa – North Iowa and Granite City always look forward to facing each other.
It’s been nearly four months since the teams last saw each other, splitting their last weekend get-together in Minnesota back in October. The teams have never waited this long to get together in Mason City, with the Bulls finally hosting their arch-rivals for the first time this season and seven more games awaiting in as many weeks between the teams.
The two teams more than made up for lost time with a 7-5 North Iowa win on Friday night that included five ties and four lead changes – only an empty-net goal from Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) in the game’s final seconds gave either team a two-goal lead at any point.
Isogai started the scoring at 11:49 of the first period, wrapping the puck around the post and jamming it past Bailey Huber for the early lead. The red light went on immediately, but the officials initially waved off the goal. A conversation with the goal judge proved convincing enough, and North Iowa found itself up 1-0 heading to the second period.
The Bulls and Lumberjacks spent the first 20 minutes feeling each other out, with North Iowa taking a 13-12 edge in shots into the intermission, and each team coming up empty on its first power play of the night.
With a cross-checking call pending against Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.), Granite City struck at 1:47 of the second period, with a sharp-angle shot catching Hanson O’Leary in front of the net, and his poke tied the game at 1-1.
A Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) roughing minor at 4:30 of the second period opened the door for Granite City to take the lead, and they did just that 19 seconds later on a shot from Cody Dias at the right edge of the slot.
The lead would last until the 7:12 mark, when the Bulls took advantage on a power play of their own – with Bjorn Jorgenson sitting for a goaltender interference infraction, a pass from Kyle Heffron (Anoka, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) in the left-wing corner zipped across to Caleb Huffman (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA), who buried a one-timer to tie the game at 2-2.
North Iowa got the lead back just short of the game’s halfway mark, just after a backhand chance from Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) caught the crossbar and bounced out front to Jones. Jones quickly banged in the second chance, giving the Bulls a 3-2 advantage.
This time, the North Iowa lead would last just 30 seconds – a shot from Kyle Mortenson at the left point caught the stick of Nicholas Richert in the slot, who re-directed the puck past Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for another tying goal.
Granite City got its last lead of the night heading into the third period – Carson Simon’s pass from the right wing caught Lumberjacks newcomer Braeden Bartoo coming through the middle, and his second move to his forehand side was enough to beat Babekuhl for a 4-3 lead with 6:35 remaining in the period.
Both teams came out to a flying start in the third period, combining for four goals in the opening five minutes. The Bulls tied the contest at 1:22, with Savaloja cleaning up a rebound in front off of Garrett Freeman’s (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) initial chance.
The Bulls grabbed the lead at 2:31 on a goal from Hayden Fox (Anchorage, Alaska/Team Alaska U18), shoving in the go-ahead goal after Cal Nauss’s (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) initial chance squirted out front and pinballed around in a brief scramble. This time, the lead lasted just 28 seconds, with Kullan Daikawa passing the puck out front for Tucker Skime to drill a tying one-timer.
The lead finally found a permanent home in North Iowa’s hands at the 4:49 mark, with Heffron kicking the puck onto the stick of Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) at the left-wing faceoff dot and Smith backhanding the puck past Huber for the 6-5 lead.
Granite City did its best to take advantage of a late power play, earning a man-advantage on a slashing call against Jac Triemert (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) with just under two minutes to play. Huber left the net with 1:45 to go, but Isogai wrapped up the night by rolling in a shot from in front of the visitors’ penalty box with 1:25 remaining.
“It was a great game. It felt like a playoff atmosphere,” said Heffron. “The fans really kept us in it when we were feeling down on ourselves.”
Isogai closed out the night with those two goals and an assist on Smith’s goal, while Heffron finished with three assists. Nauss finished with only the one assist, but wrapped up with an incredible +5 plus/minus rating on the evening. Smith and O’Leary each had a goal and an assist, while Simon and Mortenson finished with three and two assists, respectively.
Babekuhl finished with 20 saves on 25 Granite City shots, earning his 10th win of the season. Max Gutjahr came on at the third-period media timeout, making one save in just under 10 minutes of work. Huber took the loss, dropping to 5-2 for the season with 29 saves on 35 North Iowa shots.
The Bulls moved to 16-4 on the season, earning their 17th straight home win, while Granite City fell to 9-6 for the year, with losses in five of their last seven. North Iowa welcomes New Ulm to the Mason City Multipurpose Arena on Saturday night, just a week after picking up a 10-2 win over the Steel. The Bulls’ “Jurassic Night” matchup with the Steel gets underway at 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
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.
Granite City 0 4 1 – 5
North Iowa 1 2 4 – 7
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Isogai 11 (Heffron, Kaneko), 11:49. Penalties-Davidson Gcy (hooking-minor), 4:40; Cichosz Nio (hooking-minor), 12:35.
2nd Period-2, Granite City, O’Leary 4 (Davidson, Simon), 1:47. 3, Granite City, Dias 3 (Simon, Metsa), 4:49 (PP). 4, North Iowa, Huffman 3 (Heffron, Smith), 7:12 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Jones 7 (Jorgenson, Newpower), 9:46. 6, Granite City, Richert 3 (Mortenson, O’Leary), 10:16. 7, Granite City, Bartoo 1 (Simon, Mortenson), 13:25. Penalties-Savaloja Nio (cross checking-minor), 1:47; Jones Nio (roughing-minor), 4:30; Jorgenson Gcy (goalie interference-minor), 5:44; Jones Nio (boarding-minor), 14:26.
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Savaloja 4 (Freeman, Campion), 1:22. 9, North Iowa, Fox 8 (Nauss, Triemert), 2:31. 10, Granite City, Skime 3 (Daikawa, Dahlheimer), 2:59. 11, North Iowa, Smith 3 (Heffron, Isogai), 4:49. 12, North Iowa, Isogai 12 (Wendorf, Gutjahr), 18:44 (SH EN). Penalties-Bissett Gcy (cross checking-minor), 14:45; Triemert Nio (slashing-minor), 18:04.
Shots on Goal-Granite City 12-11-3-26. North Iowa 13-11-12-36.
Power Play Opportunities-Granite City 1 / 4; North Iowa 1 / 3.
Goalies-Granite City, Huber 5-2-0-0 (35 shots-29 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 10-2-0-0 (25 shots-20 saves); Gutjahr 0-0-0-0 (1 shots-1 saves).
Referees-Chazz Knoche, Quinn Schafer.
Linesmen-Ethan Fox, Reilly Hickey.