MASON CITY, Iowa – With four of their final six games against either North Iowa or Granite City, the St. Louis Jr. Blues came into Mason City this weekend knowing that they could play the spoiler in the race for the NA3HL West Division championship.
Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/Okanagan U20) made sure St. Louis won’t spoil the Bulls’ chances this season.
Isogai scored a pair on Saturday night, including a pivotal insurance goal with 9:10 to go, and the Bulls finished off a season sweep of St. Louis with a 4-2 victory, climbing two points in front of the Lumberjacks for the top spot in the West with a game in hand. The victory was North Iowa’s sixth straight at home against St. Louis and their sixth straight in the overall head-to-head series.
After giving up seven of the first eight shots of the game on Friday night, the Bulls came out with their foot on the gas on Saturday, putting up eight of the first 11. However, St. Louis drew first blood on a low shot from Sean Hofstetter to the left of Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./Blaine H.S.), giving the Jr. Blues the initial lead at 11:13 of the first period.
The Bulls couldn’t muster a response in the first period, but Isogai got the North Iowa crowd into the game with his goal at the 4:13 mark of the second. Ryan Hempel’s (Katy, Texas/Elliot Lake Wildcats) soft toss to the glove side of Brett Tome settled in front for Isogai to put away, tying the game at 1-1.
Just before the halfway point of the game, a setup pass from Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) from below the goal line caught Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.) in front – his point-blank shot was kicked out to the edge of the crease, but an extra pull gave him some additional space to toss it in the net for a 2-1 lead.
The lead lasted a little more than three minutes – with 7:09 left in the period, Evan Ross followed a jog up the left wing with a wrist shot that beat Daninger on his stick side to tie the game at 2-2.
With both teams hunting for some late momentum at the 40-minute mark, North Iowa caught the break it needed – Dalton Saltness (Forest Lake, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) ran the puck down the left wing before sliding a pass back to Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in the left-wing faceoff circle, and his one-timer beat Tome with 16 seconds remaining for the 3-2 lead.
As St. Louis proved on Friday night, no lead is safe, but the Bulls felt much more comfortable with their two-goal lead after Isogai’s second tally of the night – Dahlseide found Isogai just outside the slot for a one-timer, putting North Iowa ahead 4-2.
The Bulls’ defense more than did its share in the final 20 minutes, limiting the Jr. Blues to four shots in the third period. North Iowa out-shot St. Louis 38-24 in the contest, with Daninger earning his ninth win of the year on 22 saves. Tome made 34 saves for the third loss in his last four decisions. Dahlseide and Boccardi each finished with two assists in the game.
“It’s definitely a good feeling to get the four points against a good opponent,” said Dahlseide. “To see Granite City lose both games this weekend just gives us that much better a chance to lock up first place for the playoffs. The hard work doesn’t stop now – we’ve got to keep fighting to the end.”
North Iowa moved its record to 32-7-2-0 with the win, ahead of another weekend off, while St. Louis falls to 27-15-0-1. The Bulls’ next game will take them to Willmar on Tuesday, February 25 for a makeup game against the WarHawks. The puck drops for that game at 7 p.m. at the Willmar Civic Center, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
However, six Bulls players and head coach Todd Sanden are off to the NA3HL Top Prospects showcase on Monday and Tuesday in Attleboro, Massachusetts. The West Division squad, which will feature five North Iowa players, will play two games on Monday and another game on Tuesday at the New England Sports Village.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets to upcoming Bulls home games, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
St. Louis 1 1 0 – 2
North Iowa 0 3 1 – 4
1st Period-1, St. Louis, Hofstetter 32 (Boccardi, Delaney), 11:13. Penalties-Wiethaupt Stl (hooking-minor), 6:02.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, Isogai 18 (Hempel, Triemert), 4:13. 3, North Iowa, Wahlin 25 (Dahlseide, Daly), 9:33. 4, St. Louis, Ross 11 (Campbell, Boccardi), 12:51. 5, North Iowa, Wagner 15 (Saltness, Petronack), 19:43. Penalties-No Penalties
3rd Period-6, North Iowa, Isogai 19 (Dahlseide, Wahlin), 10:50. Penalties-Wahlin Nio (interference-minor), 11:11; Kovalenko Stl (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct-10 minute misconduct), 16:46; Stewart Nio (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct-10 minute misconduct), 16:46.
Shots on Goal-St. Louis 10-10-4-24. North Iowa 11-18-9-38.
Power Play Opportunities-St. Louis 0 / 1; North Iowa 0 / 1.
Goalies-St. Louis, Tome 13-8-0-1 (38 shots-34 saves). North Iowa, Daninger 9-2-0-0 (24 shots-22 saves).
Linesmen-Dylan Krikke, Gavin Jocelyn.