SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. – The NA3HL Western Division playoff championship will come down to one final game after the North Iowa Bulls' 3-2 loss Saturday night to the Granite City Lumberjacks, a loss that tied the best-of-3 series at a game apiece. The first period featured plenty of opportunities, but both Bulls goaltender Chris Amsden (St. Peter, MN) and Granite City counterpart Jesse Garcia stood stout in net, turning away a combined 27 shots on goal in the first 20 minutes. Just under five minutes into the second stanza, though, the Lumberjacks struck first, thanks to Tanner Skaja's wrist shot from the right faceoff circle. The 'Jacks doubled their lead at the 11:01 mark of the period, with David Kenney's rebound bouncing out in front of the cage to Travis Kothenbuetel, who banged in the extra opportunity for a 2-0 advantage. The advantage would drop to a goal going into the third period, thanks to a pass in front that was kicked to Brett Gravelle (Forest Lake, MN), who flipped in a wrist shot at the post with 5:21 left in the period. The Bulls would get two chances with the extra attacker early in the period, but capitalized on neither.
The insurance goal went back to the home team at the 6:13 mark of the third period, as Kenney put another chance on net. This time, the rebound went to Skaja for his second goal of the contest. Needing a pair of goals, North Iowa pulled Amsden in the final minute of the contest and did get one of those two tallies back, with Gravelle's tough angle shot from the right side. 24 seconds wasn't enough time to get the game tied back up, though, and Granite City finished off a 3-2 win in their final game of the year at the Rhino Deck Rink at Sports Arena East.
A two-game sweep earlier tonight for the top-seeded Nashville Jr. Predators means advancement to next week's Silver Cup tournament is now a certainty for the Bulls, who finished the regular season with the league's second-highest points total. All that remains to be decided is whether North Iowa will carry that second seed into Chicagoland, or the automatic sixth seed belonging to the tournament's wild-card entry. Sunday night, North Iowa will take its turn in playing a final home game for the 2014-15 campaign, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the North Iowa Ice Arena in Mason City.