MASON CITY, Iowa – Not every game can be a slugfest where teams are pounding shots at each other left and right, or a game with one thundering hit after another, or even a game where at least one team racks up opportunities on the power play – sometimes, a win simply comes from grinding out 60 minutes against another good team, getting a lucky bounce or a timely goal for a lead, and letting your goaltender go to work. Saturday’s game against the Willmar WarHawks was one of those games – North Iowa gritted out a 2-0 win over the WarHawks for the Bulls’ first shutout since early October, and North Iowa’s goaltender was the man of the hour.
The only goal of the first 59 minutes of the game came at the 14:45 mark of the opening period, when a Caylen Dyni (Fond du Lac, Wis./Fond du Lac H.S.) pass from the left-wing edge of the faceoff circle found Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./Shattuck-St. Mary’s) on the edge of the circle in front of Alexander Cathcart, who played his second game of the weekend against the Bulls and picked up 35 saves against 36 shots. North Iowa shot number nine hit the twine, and Dolter’s goal would stand on its own despite a few stand-on-his-head saves from both Cathcart and Bulls netminder Brady Meyers (Rochester, Minn./John Marshall H.S.).
The Bulls did stay ahead on the shot chart most of the night, leading the count 26-15 at one point in the second period. By the end of the third period, the shots lead was down to 36-30, but after a Willmar timeout with 16.5 seconds remaining, Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) won a crucial faceoff in the North Iowa end of the rink and the initial pass off the draw went to Mike Lyons (Wheaton, Ill./North Iowa Bulls), who immediately fed it ahead to Zach Hayes (Bartlett, Ill./Team Illinois) for a footrace up the rink. Hayes ran the puck into the left faceoff circle, mere feet from where Dolter had earned his early tally, and dumped the puck into the back of the open net to seal the deal.
Meyers turned away all 30 WarHawk scoring chances to earn his second shutout in a Bulls uniform, while Cathcart took the loss to fall to 1-4. Barnes’s win in that critical defensive-zone faceoff kept a tremendous scoring streak alive, pushing the North Iowa veteran to 14 consecutive games with at least one point. So far, Barnes has racked up 41 points during the Bulls’ current 14-game win streak. A night after the Bulls needed a pair of powerplay goals to power them to a 5-3 win, special-teams play hardly factored into this one. Referee Ryan Szymanski allowed the boys to play, calling only two penalties to a side – neither team was able to convert on either of its powerplay chances.
“The key for me was just staying in front of the puck and staying square to the puck,” said Meyers. “It really helps when the defensemen keep most of the shots to the outside, and the defense did a great job. We had a couple of blocked shots again tonight on the penalty kill, which were huge.”
North Iowa’s home schedule won’t resume until Saturday, Nov. 26 when the La Crosse Freeze make their trip back into the North Iowa Ice Arena to begin a Thanksgiving-weekend home-and-home. Next week is an off-week for the Bulls, before they make the trip to Sauk Rapids, Minn. to face off against the Granite City Lumberjacks on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19. The opening faceoff both nights is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Armadillo Deck Rink, on the Benton County Fairgrounds in Sauk Rapids. All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live on HockeyTV, and next Saturday’s contest at Granite City will also be audio-streamed for no charge on Mixlr.