SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. – Both the North Iowa Bulls and Granite City Lumberjacks will tell you they’d play this rivalry in a parking lot if you asked them to.
With wind chills firmly into the 20s below zero by the end of the game on Wednesday night, though, both teams are glad to have the Sports Arena East to play the game in instead.
The building was chilly but the Bulls’ offense heated right back up for a 7-3 win over the Lumberjacks, earning their sixth win in the last seven games between the teams and running their winning streak to seven in a row.
A turnover in front of the net allowed Granite City to strike first, though, with Noah Bissett rattling one home over the right shoulder of Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) 5:45 into the game.
North Iowa calmly awaited their chance, and struck – Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) feinted on a chance atop the slot, opting instead to snap one past Granite City newcomer Josh Weyandt at the 9:12 mark of the first period, and after a wraparound attempt from Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) was left unclaimed out front, Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) banged in the second chance to give the Bulls a 2-1 lead with 7:58 remaining in the period.
The second period belonged firmly to the visitors – a back-post rip from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at 8:38 and a knuckler from Jase Sofo (Sylvania, Ohio/Amarillo Bulls) at the right point just 32 seconds later tripled the lead to 4-1.
“It feels really good to get a goal in juniors for the first time,” said Sofo. “I was battling for it pretty hard until tonight, and it was just a lucky bounce. I threw it toward the net and it dropped in.”
The Bulls were able to put a major exclamation mark on the second period, with Jones finding Jorgenson out front to sneak one past Weyandt with just 7.6 seconds remaining on the clock and stretch the lead again to 5-1 heading to the intermission.
A pair of power plays put Granite City back in the game early in the third period – a setup pass from Bissett found Ben Anderson out front at 2:39, just past the halfway mark of a Lumberjacks power play after a holding call against Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.). A high-sticking call against Jones came with a response from Anderson at 4:21, off of a pass from Kullan Daikawa.
Jones would have his say again with 11:03 remaining, putting the moves on Weyandt and scoring a breakaway goal to put the lead back to three goals. After being knocked down at the back edge of the slot, Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) found himself unmarked on the way to a goal of his own with 8:06 to play, snapping the puck home off of a pass from Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls).
The North Iowa side of the ledger was rife with big games, none bigger than Jones’s two goals and an assist. Jorgenson had a goal and two assists, while Sofo’s first junior goal also proved to be the game-winner. Nauss’s two points, however, were enough to put him one point ahead of Freeman in the race for the team’s scoring lead.
“They come hard every night,” said Jones, “but we know that when we move our feet and play faster than them, they’re always going to be a step behind us, and we can move it in the [offensive] zone and get our chances and play our game.”
Gutjahr made 27 saves to earn his second win as a North Iowa netminder, while Weyandt took the loss with 21 saves. A cold Granite City power play found a spark, however, going 2-for-7 on the night to the Bulls’ 0-for-3 mark.
The win stretches the Bulls’ record to 18-4 for the season, while Granite City falls to 9-7. North Iowa heads out of this midweek matchup in the midst of its longest sustained run of success in the series since the start of the 2016-17 campaign, when the Bulls closed a stretch of seven wins in eight meetings.
North Iowa continues its busiest week of the regular season on Friday, with a visit to the Alexandria Blizzard. The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. at the Runestone Community Center, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 2 3 2 – 7
Granite City 1 0 2 – 3
1st Period-1, Granite City, Bissett 5 5:45. 2, North Iowa, Freeman 12 (Nauss, Campion), 9:12. 3, North Iowa, Jones 10 (Smith, Jorgenson), 12:02. Penalties-Cromwell Gcy (cross checking-minor), 6:31; Isogai Nio (boarding-minor), 9:46; Bissett Gcy (head contact-minor), 13:37.
2nd Period-4, North Iowa, Nauss 5 (Savaloja), 8:38. 5, North Iowa, Sofo 1 (Campion, Savaloja), 9:10. 6, North Iowa, Jorgenson 5 (Jones, Huffman), 19:53. Penalties-Simon Gcy (tripping-minor), 1:13; Wendorf Nio (tripping-minor), 2:12; Jones Nio (slashing-minor), 5:12; Halliday Gcy (unsportsmanlike conduct-10 minute misconduct), 9:31; Fox Nio (high sticking-minor), 10:14.
3rd Period-7, Granite City, Anderson 4 (Bissett, Daikawa), 2:39 (PP). 8, Granite City, Anderson 5 (Daikawa, Bissett), 4:21 (PP). 9, North Iowa, Jones 11 (Jorgenson, Cichosz), 8:57. 10, North Iowa, Heffron 6 (Isogai, Sloth), 11:54. Penalties-Savaloja Nio (holding-minor), 1:36; Jones Nio (high sticking-minor), 3:53; Huffman Nio (high sticking-minor), 16:30.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-8-9-28. Granite City 9-8-13-30.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 3; Granite City 2 / 7.
Goalies-North Iowa, Gutjahr 2-0-0-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Granite City, Weyandt 0-1-0-0 (28 shots-21 saves).
Linesmen-Ben Gawlik, Dylan Krikke.