SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. – Lose the battle, win the war.
North Iowa did fall short on Saturday night against the defending NA3HL national champion Granite City Lumberjacks, dropping a 5-4 decision for their fourth regulation loss of the season. The wins came in the season series – which now belongs to the Bulls by a five-points-to-four margin – and in some probable momentum heading into a pivotal weekend home set against the St. Louis Jr. Blues.
Just like Friday night’s edition of the rivalry, Granite City got on the board early, picking up a tally from Owen Sikich less than two minutes after the opening puck-drop. Nick Castro put one past Tyler Hawk (Palos Verdes, Calif./Pittsburgh Vengeance) with 1:12 remaining in the first period to double the lead heading to the break.
One night after opening the game with a goal, Brandon Bissett took advantage of a roughing call against Jarod Blackowiak (Eden Prairie, Minn./Austin Bruins) to start the second period, getting on the board 1:45 into the second period and pushing the Lumberjacks lead to 3-0.
Matt Moran’s check from behind in the corner would open the door for Blackowiak to get that goal back, though, busting up the shutout with 4:40 remaining in the second period and just seven seconds left on the Bulls’ first full power play of the night.
Zack DeBoom and Nick Castro took advantage of a turnover in the North Iowa zone, with DeBoom burying one at the 3:42 mark of the third period to stretch the lead to 4-1. Back-to-back Bulls penalties and the ensuing 5-on-3 gave Owen Sikich the opening he needed to push the lead to 5-1 with 12:15 remaining in the game.
With five minutes left, Granite City still held a commanding four-goal lead. Then, the floodgates opened, and the deluge almost entirely wiped that four-goal lead away.
Bailey Sommers picked up a double-minor roughing call with 6:45 to go, putting the Lumberjacks down a man despite a charging penalty to Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./Oshkish H.S.). With just six seconds left in the power play and 4:51 to go, Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) got the Bulls back on the board on a feed from Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to trim the lead to 5-2.
As they so often do, North Iowa scored in quick succession again. Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) and Cameron Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) put away a pair of goals just 10 seconds apart, pinching the Granite City lead to 5-4 with 3:15 remaining.
Hawk left the net for an extra attacker with 35 seconds to go, but the Bulls were never able to net the equalizer, and Granite City was able to escape its Armadillo Deck Rink at Sports Arena East with a one-goal victory. It’s the third one-goal win for Granite City over the Bulls in the last two seasons.
North Iowa only got three chances on the man-advantage, but freely took advantage of their opportunities with a pair of power-play goals. Granite City capitalized on two of their six chances with the extra man.
Hawk made 20 saves on 25 Lumberjack shots in his first game with the Bulls, making his first appearance since backstopping Pittsburgh’s 3-2 win over the Northeast Division-leading Binghamton Jr. Senators three weeks ago. Second-year ‘Jacks goalie David Mulligan pulled out the win, holding off 27 of the Bulls’ 31 chances.
Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) reached a milestone in Saturday’s contest as well, notching his 50th assist on Fagerlee’s final goal. He becomes the seventh player in North Iowa history with 50 assists in a season. With two more points, he’ll reach the 100-point mark in regular-season play in the NA3HL.
North Iowa returns home next Friday and Saturday for a two-game set against the St. Louis Jr. Blues. Both games are set for a 7:30 p.m. opening faceoff, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV. Saturday’s game will also be audio-streamed on Mixlr. With a win either night, Todd Sanden’s team would earn a win over a sixth division leader for the 2017-18 season.
Friday’s game is “Scout Night” at the North Iowa Ice Arena, while the Bulls will observe their Billet Appreciation Night on Saturday, along with a postgame skate and a jersey auction to benefit the North Iowa Humane Society in Mason City. For advance tickets to those games or any future Bulls home games, click here.