ROMEOVILLE, Ill. – Bulls goaltender Zack St. John (Coon Rapids, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) got a baptism by fire Friday night in his postseason debut against the Point Mallard Ducks, but it was the last shot of the night against North Iowa veteran Tommi Ahlgren (Tampere, Finland/North Iowa Bulls) that made the difference in a 4-3 Point Mallard win to cap pool play at the NA3HL Silver Cup championship tournament.
Justin Dunn got the party started for the Ducks just 44 seconds into the game, when a Jake Cox pass caught him streaking up ice through the center circle – Dunn would dash down the ice and push a backhand attempt underneath St. John for the opening goal of the night. Just like in Wednesday night’s win over the Yellowstone Quake, though, North Iowa would have a quick answer – Connor Bump’s (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) wrist shot from the left faceoff circle beat Cooper Seedott barely 90 seconds later and squared the game at one apiece. Bump would land on the score sheet again at the 16:41 mark of the period, knocking in a goal immediately following a faceoff in the left-hand circle, giving North Iowa a 2-1 lead heading to the intermission.
There would be plenty of entertainment for the second period, but the lead would never double for the Bulls, thanks to an odd-man rush following a faceoff in the Point Mallard end of the rink. An interference minor to Chandler Brown wouldn’t deter the Ducks, after winning the ensuing draw and ripping the puck ahead for a 2-on-1 break. Justin Delisle’s shorthanded snap from the right faceoff circle at 6:05, just 12 seconds into the penalty kill, equalized the score at 2-2, and Point Mallard would tally again after an odd bounce kept Bump from clearing the puck over his own blue line and out of the North Iowa defensive zone. Enter Jake Champaign, who would walk the puck in and zap it past St. John for the 3-2 lead at the 10:41 mark of the period. Shortly after that goal, St. John would exit the game in favor of Ahlgren, and the decision would shift to his shoulders after a pivotal Ryan Durant goal with just 1:27 remaining on the second-period clock. With two defenders on his tail, Durant skated into the Ducks’ zone and had an initial opportunity kicked wide, only to snag the second opportunity with Seedott committed at the front edge of his crease. Durant snuck the puck around him and into the back of the net, sending the game to the third period tied at 3-3.
Seedott faced 15 shots in the third period, but an offensive break into the North Iowa end was the factor that broke the Bulls’ chances to win the game. With just 20 seconds left on the game clock, Champaign faked a slapshot against a North Iowa defender on his way into the slot before carrying it to his left and firing home the game-winner. That shot was the last of eight Point Mallard shots in the final 20 minutes, and single-handedly snapped a 12-game winning streak.
Despite the abbreviated outing, Ahlgren ended the game with the loss, stopping 12 of the 13 shots against him. St. John left the game with 19 saves on 22 Point Mallard opportunities. Seedott saw his team wrap up its season with a 37-save night against 40 North Iowa chances. Despite knocking off the number-one team in the 3HL standings throughout the season and the top seed in the tournament, a head-to-head loss to Great Falls on Wednesday proved to be the dagger for the Ducks’ season. North Iowa advances to the Silver Cup semifinals against former division rival Twin City on Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., followed by the second semifinal between Pool A runner-up Great Falls and the Pool B champion Metro Jets at 5 p.m.