ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – North Iowa has been a tough team to tame this season, but the Alexandria Blizzard have had the answer a couple of times on their home ice.
Friday night, though, North Iowa had all the answers as the Bulls prevailed 4-1, earning their eighth straight win and moving to 19-4 on the season.
The teams spent most of the first two periods trying to find the scoreboard, though North Iowa got most of the chances. The first period went quickly, with the Bulls grabbing a 13-7 shots advantage and nary a goal or a penalty between the teams. It took until the 14:23 mark of the second period, and the Bulls’ 28th shot, before a pass from Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) out of the corner found Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) on the weak side halfway through a holding minor against Colin Tushie.
With 2:18 to go in the second, though, a one-timer from Caleb Strong snuck into the top of the net over Evan Babekuhl’s (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) shoulder for the tying goal.
Already in possession of the Bulls’ goal-scoring lead for the season, Isogai added on with 9:26 to go in the third, just five seconds into a 4-on-4 after a cross-checking call against Austin McNeil. Isogai won the ensuing faceoff, and Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) fed the puck out to the right point for Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) , who leaned into a wrist shot that tipped off of Isogai’s stick for the go-ahead goal.
A Wesley Johnson boarding minor soon put North Iowa on a 5-on-3, and off of a blocked shot in front of the net, Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) tapped in an extra chance for the Bulls’ second power play goal of the night with 8:02 to play.
After scoring two goals for the New Ulm Steel earlier this season, North Iowa newcomer Hutson Collins (Eau Claire, Wis./New Ulm Steel) earned his first goal in a Bulls uniform with just 2:17 to play, despite two initial saves from Alexandria goaltender Atticus Kelly. After the second save, a pass squirted out front for Collins, who tossed the puck through the crowd and into the back of the net.
“It feels good,” said Collins. “It’s a good group of guys. They were pretty happy for me.”
In the end, the Bulls wound up 2-for-5 on the power play, and killed off both of Alexandria’s chances with the extra man. Isogai picked up an assist on Collins’s marker, while Collins earned an assist of his own on Isogai’s first goal of the night. Heffron earned two assists of his own in the contest.
Isogai jumped into a tie with Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for the team scoring lead at 23 points apiece, with six different Bulls players sitting at 21 points or more on the season. Babekuhl earned his ninth straight victory, thanks to a 26-save effort. He now stands at 11-2 for the year, with 34 career wins as a North Iowa Bull. Kelly made 43 saves but took the loss in his first game with the Blizzard.
“They played tough tonight,” said Collins. “Their goaltending was huge for them, and I think that was their strongest point. We put it together in the third and came out on top.”
The Bulls and Blizzard return to the ice for a rematch Saturday night at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria, with the puck drop scheduled for 7:10 p.m. Live streaming coverage of Saturday’s contest is available on HockeyTV.
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.
North Iowa 0 1 3 – 4
Alexandria 0 1 0 – 1
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-1, North Iowa, Isogai 14 (Heffron, Collins), 14:23 (PP). 2, Alexandria, Strong 13 (Kenny, Rajala), 17:42. Penalties-Mohs-Messerli Nio (tripping-minor), 3:34; Tushie Alx (holding-minor), 5:12; Tushie Alx (holding-minor), 13:21.
3rd Period-3, North Iowa, Isogai 15 (Cichosz, Smith), 10:34. 4, North Iowa, Jones 12 (Jorgenson, Sofo), 11:58 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Collins 3 (Heffron, Isogai), 17:43. Penalties-Lehmann Alx (tripping-minor), 4:28; Jones Nio (holding-minor), 9:14; McNeil Alx (cross checking-minor), 10:29; Johnson Alx (boarding-minor), 11:37.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 13-18-16-47. Alexandria 7-12-8-27.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 2 / 5; Alexandria 0 / 2.
Goalies-North Iowa, Babekuhl 11-2-0-0 (27 shots-26 saves). Alexandria, Kelly 0-1-0-0 (47 shots-43 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Ben Gawlik.