SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The North Iowa Bulls are on a winning streak.
Forward Dylan Gajewski (Woodhaven, Mich./Austin Bruins) posted his second hat trick against the Springfield Jr. Blues this season, and North Iowa raced back from a 2-0 deficit at the first intermission to earn a 5-3 victory at the Nelson Center, sweeping the Jr. Blues in the Bulls’ first-ever visit to the capital city. The back-to-back victories are North Iowa’s first since November 20, the last of a season-best five-game winning streak, and the first weekend sweep of a single team since North Iowa knocked off the Austin Bruins on back-to-back nights over the Veterans’ Day weekend. The stretch since North Iowa’s last road sweep is an even longer one, earning wins in both ends of a visit to the Minot Minotauros back in October.
One night after scoring the Jr. Blues’ only goal in a 3-1 defeat, though, Hagen Moe threatened to take command for the hosts early. Just 21 seconds into a power play, with Jake LaRusso (Colts Neck, N.J./New Jersey Titans) serving a North Iowa too-many-men penalty, Moe fired the opening salvo along the ice to give Springfield the game’s first lead just 8:28 into the game and 14 seconds after the end of Moe’s holding penalty.
12 minutes into the game, Moe doubled the lead on a left-wing chance, zapping one just inside the crossbar and the back post, beating Kyle Kozma (Vaguhan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians) over his left shoulder to double the Springfield advantage to 2-0.
The lead would last barely eight minutes out of the intermission, thanks to Gajewski’s first two goals of the night. His first goal, at 1:45 of the period, was more on the unintentional side, with the puck intended to go to the back post for a redirect. Instead, the puck ran away from Gajewski and raced into the net past Ethan Roberts to trim the lead to 2-1.
North Iowa cut the Jr. Blues out of the lead entirely at the 8:08 mark, when Gajewski’s laser from the right wing sneaked into the top corner of the net over Roberts’s right shoulder, tying the game at 2-2 going to the third.
The teams battled for the lead for much of the third, and at 6:59 of the third, Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) appeared to have the heroic goal with a snap from deep in the right-wing faceoff circle. However, James Callahan tied the game just two-and-a-half minutes later on a wrist shot from the right wing with Michael Valdez screening the front of the net.
Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) would have the decisive word for the second game in a row, taking a feed along the ice from Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) and jousting it into the top of the net with just 5:49 remaining. Gajewski finished off the hat trick with 2:45 remaining, snapping a shot from the middle of the slot to close out the scoring.
“I’m just finding open ice, making sure I’m calling for it any time my teammates have the puck, just making sure I’m in a good spot,” said Gajewski. “We’ve got to keep stringing wins together – we can’t be splitting weekends anymore. We’ve got to keep things going, and this is a good way to start. We’re in playoff mode now, so these two wins really feel good.”
For the first time against a Midwest Division opponent this season, North Iowa came up empty on the power play, going 0-for-2 in just over two minutes of time on the man-advantage. Springfield went 1-for-3, connecting on its first opportunity of the evening. Kyle Kozma made 32 saves to earn his seventh win of the season, while Ethan Roberts was denied his 17th victory despite making 38 saves on 43 North Iowa chances.
Leo Bacallao had a pair of assists, helping on Moe’s first two tallies, while Andrew Stacey (Toledo, Ohio/Tri-State Spartans 18U) and Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) each earned a pair of assists as well. For Scott, it was his first appearance on the score sheet for North Iowa since December 3, prior to his United States Hockey League call-up with the Lincoln Stars. Gajewski surged to 15 goals on the season, with seven coming in the Bulls’ four meetings against the Jr. Blues.
North Iowa also enjoyed its second win this season when trailing after the first period, and the Bulls delivered the Jr. Blues their first loss of the season when going into the third period with a tie score. Springfield has been deadly this year when scoring first, losing for only the fifth time when picking up the game’s initial lead, and the Jr. Blues have only allowed five losses when leading after 20 minutes.
The Jr. Blues dropped to 29-14-1-2 with the loss, while North Iowa moved to 21-19-2-4 and closed out its season series with Springfield with wins in three of the four meetings. Next up for the Bulls is a Bismarck Bobcat team that also comes into the weekend on a hot streak, with wins in five straight games. Next Friday and Saturday’s games get underway at 7:15 p.m. at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck, North Dakota. Live streaming coverage of both games is available on HockeyTV Sponsored by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
The Bulls return to home ice with a battle against the Austin Bruins on March 11 – to purchase advance tickets to that game, or any upcoming North Iowa home game, call the Bulls Ticket Line at 641-450-0914 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey 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 2 3 – 5
Springfield 2 0 1 – 3
1st Period-1, Springfield, Moe 21 (Bacallao, Novak), 8:28 (PP). 2, Springfield, Moe 22 (Bacallao, Jones), 12:01. Penalties-Moe Spr (holding-minor), 6:14; LaRusso Nio (too many men-minor), 8:07.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Gajewski 13 (LaRusso, Stacey), 1:45. 4, North Iowa, Gajewski 14 (Mesic, Stacey), 8:08. Penalties-Braccini Nio (slashing-minor), 3:10; Braccini Nio (roughing-minor), 19:58; Chesney Spr (roughing-minor), 19:58.
3rd Period-5, North Iowa, Mesic 15 (Rapalje, Vlasich), 6:59. 6, Springfield, Callahan 5 (Dubicki, Gadowsky), 9:24. 7, North Iowa, Vlasich 7 (Japchen, Scott), 14:11. 8, North Iowa, Gajewski 15 (Scott, Campion), 17:15. Penalties-Brophy Nio (hooking-minor), 12:19; Dubicki Spr (hooking-minor), 12:28.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 10-15-18-43. Springfield 9-17-9-35.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 2; Springfield 1 / 3.
Goalies-North Iowa, Kozma 7-8-2-0 (35 shots-32 saves). Springfield, Roberts 16-9-0-1 (43 shots-38 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Matt Valerio.