MASON CITY, Iowa – North Iowa Bulls coach Todd Sanden wanted to get the 2015-16 Silver Cup playoffs off to a good start against a Rochester team that has been slow out of the gate on the road this season. That mission was accomplished as part of a 10-1 rout over the Ice Hawks Friday night at the North Iowa Ice Arena. Veteran North Iowa forward Austin Jackson (Waterloo, Iowa/Minnesota Magicians) racked up a hat trick, his second in a two-week stretch, and the Bulls went up a game in their best-2-of-3 Central Division playoff series. More importantly, Sanden's team is also within a game of clinching an automatic bid into the Silver Cup championship tournament, either as one of the six division champions or one of the two wild-card entries.
"[Jackson] is a big, strong right-handed shot and we use him as a power forward," said Sanden. "If you get him pucks in front of the net, he's going to find the back of the net on you.
The opening tally went to Quinn Fuchs (Minot, N.D./Minot Minotauros), just 5:45 into the game, thanks to a toss into the Ice Hawks' zone from Kohei Sato (Nishitokio, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) – his pass caught Fuchs on his way to the net, and a sliding score gave the home team its first tally. The next ones came in short order with a tap-in from Jackson at 7:18 of the period and Joe Burgmeier's (Mason City, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) mid-slot laser over Kyle Plantz's shoulder at 8:50 of the period. A long pass from the Bulls' end found Sato at the Rochester blue line on the penalty kill, and the second-year North Iowa forward walked it into the net at the 15:47 mark, but Nick Paulson picked off a pass in the North Iowa end barely a minute later and whipped it past David Johnson (Bloomington, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for the only visiting goal of the night.
The Bulls' power play reigned supreme in the second period, starting at the 5:47 mark with Sean Mallonee's tough-angle zip-in near the goal line to Plantz's right. In a twist of impressive symmetry, the next goal came with 5:47 remaining in the second, on Jackson's rebound tip-in in front of the net. David Min (Redmond, Wash./Banff Hockey Academy) earned a much-deserved first goal of 2016 with 1:33 left on the second-period clock, throwing one into the back of the net from above the faceoff circles and giving his team a 7-1 lead with 20 minutes to play.
Fuchs gave the Bulls a 19th shorthanded goal of the season (including the two in this game) at 3:42 of the period, blasting one in from the slot off of a Sato takeaway outside the faceoff circle to Plantz's right. Tommy Stang (Mendota Heights, Minn./St. Thomas Academy) earned his first playoff goal as a Bull at 6:16 of the final period on a backdoor play, and the hats rained down onto the ice for Jackson's third goal less than two minutes later. Ryan Durant's (Waupun, Wisc./North Iowa Bulls) sliding pass to the front of the net found Jackson, who slid it in under the Ice Hawks' netminder to give the Bulls 10 goals or more in every game of their seven-game homestand.
"We talked about special teams being a factor in the playoffs," said Sanden. "Obviously, our special teams were very good for us tonight. We had a bit of a handle on the game too, so it wasn't a surprise that you see some frustration, but I thought they handled it well. Our guys kept their feet on the gas and we kept going."
North Iowa finished 3-for-9 on the power play in the game and also scored a pair of shorthanded goals. The Ice Hawks ended the evening 0-for-5, just a game after finishing 1-for-2 against Wisconsin in their regular-season finale. Johnson stopped 22 of the 23 Rochester shots sent his way, earning his first playoff win in a Bulls sweater. Game 2 will see North Iowa head on the road to the Rochester Recreation Center Saturday night, with a 7:05 p.m. faceoff. Live audio coverage on NorthIowaBulls.com starts at 6:50 p.m.
- The Bulls' scoreless streak held up for 266:23, more than 13 full periods. The last goal to end up in the net against the Bulls was also scored by a Rochester player (Griffen Buck), back on February 27. Bulls goaltenders had stopped 105 straight shots between goals and pitched four full shutouts.
- Kenny Ree's second-period ejection gave him 14 consecutive games with a penalty, the longest such streak in the NA3HL.
- David Min's last goal came December 18, at the NA3HL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota against the Pittsburgh Vengeance.