MASON CITY, Iowa – Among all of the headlines of the 2015-16 regular season for the North Iowa Bulls, the numbers will speak for themselves long after the uniforms have been washed for the last time. Brett Gravelle's (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) NA3HL-record 57 goals and league-best 99 points. Tommi Ahlgren's (Tampere, Finland/North Iowa Bulls) eight shoutouts, .958 save percentage and 1.17 goals-against average, all new 3HL records. 87 points in the standings on 42 wins, more than enough for a regular-season league championship. All of those were clinched in a wild weekend for the Bulls, which wrapped up Sunday with a 10-0 win over the Chicago Jr. Bulldogs at the North Iowa Ice Arena.
The first period carried a few oddities of its own – a scoreless first period, the first for the Bulls since their 3-1 loss to Wisconsin back on Feb. 20, not to mention a 26-0 shots-on-goal margin in favor of the home team. The Jr. Bulldogs wouldn't register a shot for almost 24 minutes after the start of the contest, and not until North Iowa had thrown 31 at Chicago netminder Sergey Markelov. The scoring began barely a minute into the second period, when Tommy Stang (Mendota Heights, Minn./St. Thomas Academy) knocked in a right-side rebound off of a Carmen Dalesandro (Cannonsburg, Penn./North Iowa Bulls) shot to get the Bulls on the board for the first time. Two Gravelle goals just 21 seconds apart, at the 3:35 and 3:56 markers of the period, got the second-year Bull into record territory. Todd Sanden's players cleared the bench to mob the new NA3HL record-holder along the wall in front of the home crowd, incurring a bench minor for delay of game, the first assessed directly to the coach in his five years with the Bulls. Two top-shelf goals near the goal line from Jack Stang (Mendota Heights, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at 6:53 and Joe Burgmeier (Mason City, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) at 10:04 put the North Iowa lead at a handful going to the third.
The Bulls whacked in another shorthanded goal at 3:18 of the third period, with Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./Everett Silvertips) poking a tough-angle rebound off his own shot to give the home team a 6-0 lead. Adam Orn (Ramsey, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) finished the night with a +7 line, thanks in part to two goals at 9:00 and 9:57 of the third period. The even-strength marker with 11 minutes to play snuck past the outstretched stick of Connor Bump (Prior Lake, Minn/North Iowa Bulls), waiting for a deflection in front of the Chicago net, and chased Markelov from the net in favor of former Breezy Point backstop Matt Memolo. By the time 8:34 showed on the third-period clock, Mitch Parsons (Grandville, Mich./Grandville H.S.) had pinballed one in off in the inside of Memolo's right post and Gravelle had walked one more into the net for a hat trick and his 57th goal of the year. Gravelle's regular season ended with seven hat tricks and a dozen other multi-goal games.
"We told our guys, it's mandatory off for Monday," said Sanden. "We'll get after it on Tuesday, and even on Tuesday guys are still going to be pretty sore. We'll get out there and get them a skate on Tuesday and ramp it up on Wednesday and Thursday. When you score a lot of goals, kids feel good about themselves, but we know we need to tighten things up in the [defensive] zone. We ran around quite a bit. We have to have a big week and get back to it."
Zack St. John (Coon Rapids, Minn./Coon Rapids H.S.) capped off his first season in a Bulls uniform with his second shutout of the year and the team's 14th, stopping all 17 Chicago shots he saw. The playoffs now begin in earnest for North Iowa, with the last outing of a seven-game homestand on Friday night against the Rochester Ice Hawks. The Bulls will honor their players' parents prior to Friday's game, including the 13 players born in 1995, who will finish their junior careers this season in a North Iowa uniform. The opening faceoff against Rochester is set for 7:30 p.m. at the North Iowa Ice Arena, to begin a best-2-of-3 series for the first-year rivals. The winner of the series advances to the NA3HL Central Division Finals, and with a series win the Bulls would also clinch one of the eight available slots in the league's Silver Cup championship tournament in Romeoville, Ill.