WILLMAR, Minn. – With four games in a six-day stretch and a West Division title in sight, the week to come will no doubt be a process for the North Iowa Bulls. The team is focusing on one game at a time, and game number one Tuesday night in Willmar was a runaway for Todd Sanden’s team.
An onslaught in the first period and a five-goal outburst in the second powered the Bulls to a 9-0 win over the WarHawks, putting Willmar in a dire playoff predicament with three games to go. A single Willmar loss, or a single Alexandria win, will seal up the final West Division playoff spot and lock the WarHawks out of the postseason after a spirited late-season race.
After 19 unsuccessful shots, the Bulls finally planted the 20th opportunity in the net with Justin Daly (Delano, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) burying a chance at 13:37 of the first period for a 1-0 lead. The visitors headed to the break with a 2-0 lead, thanks in part to a delay of game penalty on Willmar goaltender Lukas Haugen. A blast from Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) above the left-wing circle doubled the lead with 1:34 remaining in the period.
In all, the Bulls posted 29 first-period shots, the team’s highest mark since posting a 30-shot third period in a home game against Willmar last season. However, the Bulls made their second period count with a literal handful of goals, starting early in the stanza.
Carter Eha (Bloomington, Minn./Jamestown Rebels) poked one past Haugen at the 1:15 mark of the second period to make it a 3-0 game, and Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.) shoved one in at the 3:06 mark for a 4-0 lead. Ethan Mock spent all of 11 seconds in the penalty box after taking a hooking penalty just past the game’s halfway mark, with Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) pitching one in under the crossbar for a 5-0 advantage.
The lead jumped to 7-0 in quick fashion with just over three minutes left in the period – Fagerlee fed the puck across the slot to Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./Odessa Jackalopes) to bury a 2-on-0 chance with 3:39 left in the second, and Fagerlee snuck another one under the crossbar just 31 seconds later to extend the lead.
Daly left an extra drop pass at the middle of the slot for Wahlin to snap a wide-open shot past relief goaltender Luke Weberg at the 8:04 mark of the third to make it 8-0. Daly himself finished the scoring barely five minutes later, leaning into a wrist shot and cranking it over Weberg’s right shoulder with 6:50 remaining.
Wahlin and Daly had the most impressive nights, with five and four points respectively. Each had a pair of goals in the contest, as did Fagerlee, who finished with just the one assist. Wagner and Dahlseide also finished with three points apiece.
“We knew they had some short numbers and that they’re almost out of the playoff race, so they’d be sending it all (at us) in the first and second period,” said Fagerlee. “They really did, but our depth showed and stood out at the end of the game.”
Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) finished off his fifth shutout of the season for his 13th win, making 22 saves. Haugen exited the game after making 35 saves on 42 North Iowa shots, while Weberg went 12-for-14 in net behind Haugen. The Bulls spent less than a third of their allotted four minutes on the power play, scoring on both of their chances, while Willmar came up empty on their only man-advantage in the third period.
North Iowa now moves to 33-7-2-0 on the season, while Willmar lost its fifth straight to drop to 17-23-2-2. The Bulls’ magic number for a West Division title is down to just seven points, and any North Iowa win or Granite City loss will shrink that number even further.
The Peoria Mustangs visit the Mason City Multipurpose Arena for two pivotal games this Friday and Saturday night, with both games of the Bulls’ Family of the Fallen jersey auction weekend scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. The WarHawks continue their schedule with Sunday’s road trip to North Iowa, with a 6:30 p.m. puck drop. All three games will stream live on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available by visiting www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets for any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
North Iowa 2 5 2 – 9
Willmar 0 0 0 – 0
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Daly 14 (Dahlseide, Wahlin), 13:40. 2, North Iowa, Dahlseide 21 (Stewart, Wahlin), 18:34 (PP). Penalties-Haugen Wil (delay of game-minor), 17:26.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Eha 9 (Petronack, Nauss), 1:15. 4, North Iowa, Wahlin 26 (Dahlseide, Daly), 3:06. 5, North Iowa, Fagerlee 19 (Wagner, Nauss), 10:22 (PP). 6, North Iowa, Wagner 16 (Fagerlee, Aguilera), 16:21. 7, North Iowa, Fagerlee 20 (Wagner), 16:52. Penalties-Mock Wil (hooking-minor), 10:11.
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Wahlin 27 (Daly, Roitman), 8:04. 9, North Iowa, Daly 15 (Stewart, Wahlin), 13:10. Penalties-Roo Nio (boarding-minor), 4:09.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 29-14-13-56. Willmar 8-6-8-22.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 2 / 2; Willmar 0 / 1.
Goalies-North Iowa, Babekuhl 13-2-0-0 (22 shots-22 saves). Willmar, Haugen 4-9-2-1 (42 shots-35 saves); Weberg 7-9-0-0 (14 shots-12 saves).
Linesmen-Jared Cummins, Dylan Krikke.