ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – After eight weeks without a West Division game, it took the Alexandria Blizzard a night to shed the rust and get back into the swing of things.
Turns out North Iowa simply needed the extra night, too.
After opening 2021 with a last-minute loss on Saturday night against the Blizzard, the Bulls shook off a rocky stretch in the second period for a 5-3 win and their first victory of the new year on Sunday at the Runestone Community Center. Alexandria scored on a 5-on-3 power play and the ensuing 5-on-4, surging to a two-goal lead before North Iowa made its move.
Four unanswered goals later, the Bulls had the win they wanted.
North Iowa peppered the net early Saturday night, but both teams failed to score in the opening 20 minutes. Sunday’s game appeared to be going the same way until the 14-minute mark, when a slap shot from Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) at the top of the slot clipped Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) and beat Joey Greilich for a 1-0 lead.
For a time, it looked like the second period would belong to the Blizzard, and by the eight-minute mark, Alexandria had all the momentum. Back-to-back penalties to Caleb Huffman (Anchorage, Alaska/Meijer AAA) and Nico Aguilera (Lakeville, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) put the Bulls on the wrong side of a 5-on-3, and just nine seconds into the latter penalty, Kaden Peterson’s blast from the top of the zone evaded Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to tie the game. His goal came at 5:47 of the second period, and Nikolai Rajala’s one-timer from just inside the right-wing faceoff circle at the 7:20 mark ended the power play and put the Blizzard in front.
Sean Kenny took a pass from Rajala on his way into the Bulls’ zone and poked it to the back post just 41 seconds later, putting the Alexandria momentum at its maximum and giving them the 3-1 advantage.
The Bulls needed a quick response, and they got it – just 21 seconds after Kenny’s marker, Lucas Jorgenson’s (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) pass found Newpower in the right-wing faceoff circle for a short-side snap to cut the lead to 3-2.
With 6:37 remaining in the period, North Iowa eliminated the lead, thanks to Kyle Heffron’s (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) pass in front of the net and a tip from Brayden Uttech that beat Greilich through the five-hole for the tying tally.
With 4:25 remaining, North Iowa grabbed the lead for good, off of a shot from the right point from newcomer Jase Sofo (Sylvania, Ohio/Amarillo Bulls). The puck pinballed around in front of the net before Shota Kaneko (Tokyo, Japan/Team Japan U20) was able to find it on the post and tap it in for the go-ahead goal.
The Bulls got 18 shots in the second period, but the game was on the edge heading to the third. Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) gave the visitors the breathing room they needed less than a minute-and-a-half into the third, sneaking a wrister over Greilich’s mitt from the left-wing hash marks for the two-goal lead and the final score.
“I thought we rallied back pretty well after giving up those two power play goals,” said Newpower. “We stuck with our game and we didn’t give up, and that was successful for us tonight.”
Babekuhl earned his eighth win of the season and sixth in a row, making 21 saves to move to 8-2. Greilich dropped to 3-5, making 31 saves in the losing effort for the Blizzard. Both teams had their chances on the power play, but only Alexandria took advantage, going 2-for-8. The Bulls finished the night 0-for-7 with the extra man, but moved to 12-4 for the season ahead of their first official home contest since November 21.
“We’re looking for four points every weekend, and we were lucky (enough) to get two points tonight,” said Jones. “Next weekend, we’ll be looking for four, and every weekend from here on.”
With the win, Babekuhl has also entered some elite company in North Iowa goaltending lore, picking up his 31st career victory to tie for second in franchise history. Alongside him on the Bulls’ career wins list are Chris Amsden and David Johnson, each of whom led the Bulls to national championships during their time in Mason City. Only Matthew Bartels, with 41 wins, remains to be caught.
The Bulls’ first home game of 2021 is scheduled for Friday night against Alexandria, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. North Iowa will celebrate its return to home ice with its “Together We Are Stronger” promotion to benefit Mason City Youth Hockey. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV, with 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 on social media through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 3 1 – 5
Alexandria 0 3 0 – 3
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Jones 5 (Newpower, Jorgenson), 14:00. Penalties-Strong Alx (holding-minor), 5:43; Kaneko Nio (too many men-minor), 8:19; Aguilera Nio (tripping-minor), 9:51; Revering Alx (holding-minor), 17:39; Heffron Nio (roughing-minor), 18:44.
2nd Period-2, Alexandria, Peterson 3 (Jacobs, McNeil), 5:50 (PP). 3, Alexandria, Rajala 1 (Strong, Kenny), 7:22 (PP). 4, Alexandria, Kenny 4 (Rajala, Johnson), 8:03. 5, North Iowa, Newpower 7 (Jorgenson, Jones), 8:24. 6, North Iowa, Uttech 6 (Heffron, Isogai), 13:23. 7, North Iowa, Kaneko 3 (Sofo, Triemert), 15:37. Penalties-Revering Alx (slashing-minor), 2:14; Nauss Nio (slashing-minor), 2:16; Huffman Nio (slashing-minor), 5:08; Aguilera Nio (interference-minor), 5:40; Tushie Alx (tripping-minor), 8:28.
3rd Period-8, North Iowa, Nauss 4 1:28. Penalties-Lehmann Alx (high sticking-minor), 5:53; Greeder Alx (roughing-minor), 9:16; Huffman Nio (tripping-minor), 11:39; Aguilera Nio (slashing-minor), 16:17; Duckson Alx (cross checking-minor), 19:49.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 8-18-10-36. Alexandria 7-11-6-24.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 7; Alexandria 2 / 8.
Goalies-North Iowa, Babekuhl 8-2-0-0 (24 shots-21 saves). Alexandria, Greilich 3-5-0-0 (36 shots-31 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Phillip Kasko.