SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. – One way or another, North Iowa and Granite City’s get-together this weekend was going to make history. The Bulls and Lumberjacks have never taken part in a closer West Division championship race, but the final chapter in this year’s history book will have to wait one more night, as the Bulls and Lumberjacks square off for a winner-take-all battle for this year’s West Division title.
Granite City rode a big power play to a 4-2 victory over the Bulls, putting added emphasis on what could be the final chapter in an incredible 10-year rivalry between the teams.
North Iowa got the first goal of the night, when a clearing attempt failed to get past Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong-Cooper H.S.) at the right point – Campion walked the puck in front of the net and snapped it past Bailey Huber at the 8:23 mark of the opening period for a 1-0 lead.
The Bulls seemed to do it all right in the opening 20 minutes, taking the lead into the locker room, out-shooting their hosts 11-4 and killing off the game’s first power play. The Lumberjacks turned the tide in the second, though, when Ben Anderson broke loose and tossed one to the back side of the net at 3:43 for a 1-1 tie.
Two goals in quick succession sent Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) to the bench early – at 8:59, following a hooking minor to Sean Sullivan (Middleton, Wis./North Iowa Bulls), a pass out front from Troy Dahlheimer caught Brett Reed’s stick, and Reed fired home his power play chance to make it a 2-1 Granite City lead. 48 seconds later, Carson Simon’s shot from the right-wing faceoff dot beat Gutjahr in the top half for a two-goal advantage.
Braeden Bartoo’s high-sticking minor at 12:24 of the period was a costly one, though, giving the Bulls a brief 5-on-3 that they would quickly capitalize upon. With four seconds remaining on a previous roughing call against Camden Benson and just seven seconds into Bartoo’s penalty, Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) fired one down the slot to beat Huber over his left shoulder to cut the lead to 3-2.
Every penalty-killing opportunity would grow more important, but the Bulls’ next penalty kill would last just 15 seconds. Garrett Freeman’s (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) tripping minor at 5:30 of the third period put the Bulls down a man – at 5:45 Tal Halliday wristed it in from the right-wing circle to push the lead to 4-2.
North Iowa out-shot Granite City 12-8 in the final period, but did not score in the last stanza. A cross-checking minor against Nauss with 2:45 to go ran off much of the opportunity to get an extra attacker on the ice, as the Lumberjacks closed out a must-win contest.
“I thought we came out well and started off with a good game,” said Campion. “They just kept coming, and they put us on our heels. We just didn’t really have a response.”
Anderson finished with a goal and an assist for the Lumberjacks, while Bartoo’s two assists marked the only other multi-point outing of the game. Huber wrapped up with 33 saves on 35 chances, while Gutjahr took the loss with 10 saves on 13 chances. Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) came on in relief to make eight saves in the game’s second half.
In the end, the Lumberjacks finished 2-for-4 on the power play, scoring on five of their last nine chances against the Bulls with the extra man. North Iowa was active on the man-advantage as well, going 1-for-6.
Saturday’s rematch will decide the West Division championship, the only time a division race between the Bulls and Lumberjacks has come down to the final night of the season. With overall wins as the primary tiebreaker, a win for North Iowa would give the Bulls a two-point lead in the standings and allow them to hold that tiebreaker, as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker. A Lumberjacks win would give Granite City the tiebreaker on overall wins, even if the Bulls evened up the points race.
The opening puck drop at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage available on HockeyTV.
2020-21 season tickets are on sale now as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League. Updated news and information on the 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 1 1 0 – 2
Granite City 0 3 1 – 4
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Campion 16 (Freeman, Smith), 8:23. Penalties-Huffman Nio (checking from behind-minor), 17:41.
2nd Period-2, Granite City, Anderson 11 3:43. 3, Granite City, Reed 5 (Dahlheimer, Bartoo), 8:59 (PP). 4, Granite City, Simon 22 (O’Leary, Cromwell), 9:47. 5, North Iowa, Nauss 10 (Newpower, Jones), 12:31 (PP). Penalties-Cromwell Gcy (interference-minor), 4:01; Sullivan Nio (hooking-minor), 7:49; Benson Gcy (roughing-minor), 10:35; Bartoo Gcy (high sticking-minor), 12:24; Reed Gcy (roughing-minor), 15:12; Davidson Gcy (interference-minor), 18:54.
3rd Period-6, Granite City, Halliday 4 (Anderson, Bartoo), 5:45 (PP). Penalties-Freeman Nio (tripping-minor), 5:30; Dahlheimer Gcy (checking from behind-minor), 14:18; Nauss Nio (cross checking-minor), 17:21.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-12-12-35. Granite City 4-10-8-22.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 6; Granite City 2 / 4.
Goalies-North Iowa, Gutjahr 7-3-1-0 (13 shots-10 saves); Stokes 1-2-0-0 (9 shots-8 saves). Granite City, Huber 15-5-0-1 (35 shots-33 saves).
Linesmen-Alec Almquist, Gabe Halonen.