SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – North Iowa defenseman Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) had quite the memorable night in Friday’s North American Hockey League contest at the Nelson Center – his empty-net goal with 90 seconds remaining might not go down as one of his most memorable goals, despite coming from deep in the Bulls’ defensive zone. He’ll certainly remember the circumstances, though, with that goal capping off his 100th North American Hockey League contest and a 3-1 North Iowa win over the Springfield Jr. Blues, a victory that keeps the Bulls right in the thick of a red-hot Central Division playoff race.
The Bulls made their first-ever contest in Springfield count, opening the night with a goal from Brett Morich (Phoenix, Ariz./Jamestown Rebels) at 8:47 of the first period. That goal came from high in the slot, sneaking its way past the traffic in front and beating Aksel Reid off the crossbar for the 1-0 advantage. The Bulls went into the second period with the lead, but trailing 12-8 in the shots-on-goal department.
Springfield extended that margin to 25-13 after the second period, and tied the game just past the halfway point late in its first power play of the night, following a hooking call against Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA). Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) stopped an initial shot from Cole Dubicki above the faceoff circles, but Hagen Moe won the puck out of a scramble to Garvey’s left and stuffed the puck into the net for the tying marker.
A double-minor in the final minutes of the second period gave North Iowa the opening it needed to take the lead for good – Leo Bacallao picked up a four-minute slashing call with just 4:16 left on the second period clock, and with one second left on the power play, Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) ripped a shot from the right wing over Reid’s right shoulder to snap the Bulls into the lead for good.
The teams battled to a stalemate in the third period, and with Reid out of the net and the Jr. Blues’ sixth attacker on the ice, Japchen attempted to clear the puck out of the North Iowa zone with a stretch pass. Instead, his pass raced out of the North Iowa zone and made a beeline for the empty net, giving him a highlight to close out his big night.
“It was definitely nice to get on the score sheet with that goal,” said Japchen. “I had no idea it was my 100th game – I thought I was over it, honestly. I was hoping no one on the team would find out, so I wouldn’t have to do a lap.”
Vlasich’s power play goal was his second straight on a Friday night, after his power play tally highlighted the Bulls’ 6-2 loss to Bismarck last weekend. Jack Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) enjoyed a memorable night of his own, posting a pair of assists.
Garvey made 32 saves on Springfield’s 33 shots, posting one of his best showings in a North Iowa uniform and earning his 14th win of the season. It was the first time since September 17 that the Bulls have allowed only a single goal in a contest. Reid made 21 saves on 23 North Iowa shots, taking the loss for the Jr. Blues and slipping back to 5-6-0-1 for the year.
The Bulls added a nice bump to their power play percentage as well, going 1-for-3 on the power play thanks to Vlasich’s second-period goal, while Springfield enjoyed its own success in a 1-for-2 showing.
“We feel good (after this game),” said Vlasich. “We’ve dropped a few, but it was good to get this one under our belt. I felt we played a really strong game, and very disciplined. They played heavy – they hit everything they see, and they like to play fast. They get pucks deep, so I think if we just keep playing fast up the ice – move pucks quickly and keep it simple along the wall, we’ll be successful tomorrow.”
North Iowa snapped a four-game winless streak and earned its 20th win of the year, bumping its season mark to 20-19-2-4. Springfield extended its skid to three games, falling to 29-13-1-2 with the loss. The teams return to action Saturday evening in the last of their four regular-season meetings, with the opening puck drop at the Nelson Center slated for 6:05 p.m., with live streaming coverage available on HockeyTV Sponsored by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
The Bulls return to home ice against the Austin Bruins on Friday, March 11 – to purchase advance tickets for that game or any upcoming North Iowa home game, call the Bulls Ticket Line at 641-450-0914 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey 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 1 – 3
Springfield 0 1 0 – 1
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Morich 6 (Stacey, Mesic), 8:47. Penalties-Moe Spr (holding-minor), 16:44.
2nd Period-2, Springfield, Moe 20 (Smith, Dubicki), 10:40 (PP). 3, North Iowa, Vlasich 6 (Mesic, Mesic), 19:44 (PP). Penalties-Mexico Nio (hooking-minor), 9:19; Scott Nio (slashing-minor), 10:48; Marino Spr (roughing-minor), 10:48; Campion Nio (roughing-minor), 11:06; Bade Spr (roughing-minor), 11:06; Bacallao Spr (slashing-minor, slashing-minor, abuse of official-10 misc), 15:46.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Japchen 9 (Mexico, LaRusso), 18:33 (EN). Penalties-Potter Nio (tripping-minor), 0:54; LaRusso Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 18:59; Dubicki Spr (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 18:59; Moe Spr (cross checking-minor), 18:59.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 8-5-11-24. Springfield 12-13-8-33.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 0; Springfield 1 / 0.
Goalies-North Iowa, Garvey 14-14-1-4 (33 shots-32 saves). Springfield, Reid 5-6-0-1 (23 shots-21 saves).
Linesmen-Craig Ford, Kevin Haller.