MASON CITY, Iowa – After 38 meetings, it’s possible the rivalry between the North Iowa Bulls and Granite City Lumberjacks has entered its final chapter in Mason City.
North Iowa left the ice on Saturday night hoping it hasn’t, if only in hopes of getting another shot at the Lumberjacks and ending the series on the right note.
A five-minute major penalty call against Nick Richert in the second period and a high-sticking call on Tal Halliday blew the door wide open for the Bulls, but Granite City roared back from a two-goal deficit for a 4-3 win in North Iowa’s final regular-season home game in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League.
The power play units were impressive again for both teams, starting in the first period with a tripping call against Jase Sofo (Sylvania, Ohio/Amarillo Bulls) that gave Granite City their first opportunity of the night. Cameron Cromwell’s pass across to Carson Simon at the right-wing faceoff circle left Simon lots of open net for the game’s opening goal just 7:16 in.
North Iowa cranked up the pace in the second period, taking a 15-5 shots-on-goal advantage over the middle 20 minutes, and the Bulls finally struck at the 7:03 mark. A throw from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at the blue line hit Bailey Huber out front and Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) found the rebound and slipped it home to tie the game at 1-1.
Richert’s night came to an end with 7:20 remaining in the period, delivering a slash to the midsection of Jac Triemert (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) behind the play. Referee Drew Chisholm spotted the infraction and handed Richert a major and a game misconduct.
The Bulls had barely settled into the five-minute power play when Halliday caught Brayden Uttech (Sun Prairie, Wis./Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings) with a high stick in the corner, giving the hosts a full two-minute 5-on-3.
North Iowa only needed three-quarters of it – Brendan Sloth (Anoka, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) snapped a wrist shot from the left-wing faceoff circle with 4:37 remaining in the period, earning his first junior goal and putting the Bulls back in the lead.
“Two years of juniors and my first goal, that was huge,” said Sloth. “The 5-on-3, they gave us a huge opportunity and I found a lane and found the back of the net. That was a huge sigh of relief.”
The game’s only insurance goal went to the Bulls with just 14 seconds left on North Iowa’s five-minute power play, when Sean Sullivan’s (Middleton, Wis./North Iowa Bulls) shot from the left wing clipped Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong-Cooper H.S.) in front of the net. The redirect beat Huber to push the North Iowa lead to 3-1 with 2:35 remaining in the second period.
The Lumberjacks went into the locker room with confidence and momentum, scoring with 0.4 seconds remaining in the second period when Cromwell dug the puck off the boards at the right-wing hash marks and threw it toward the net where Simon was waiting to push it home with Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) committed to his left.
Granite City took control in the third, erasing the lead on a give-and-go with Shane Prifrel and Hanson O’Leary at the 1:43 mark and earning their first lead of the night at 8:31 on a Tucker Skime shot immediately after a faceoff in the North Iowa end of the rink.
The power play units took on a starring role again in Saturday’s game, after combining for a 3-for-5 finish on Friday. Granite City capitalized quickly on its only power play, while North Iowa went 2-for-3. Simon and Cromwell enjoyed two-point outings for the Lumberjacks, while Smith’s three points was the headline of the night for North Iowa.
Gutjahr took the loss despite making 18 saves, while Huber avoided the weekend sweep with a 33-save performance. The win was his 13th of the season, while Gutjahr saw a personal three-game winning streak halted.
Saturday’s game was the North American Tier 3 Hockey League’s largest crowd of the season, with 1,100 fans in attendance as the Bulls sold out the COVID-capacity Mason City Multipurpose Arena in their final regular-season home contest as an NA3HL team.
North Iowa’s magic number remains just six points, meaning a Granite City loss on Sunday at New Ulm or Wednesday against Willmar would still allow the Bulls to take a division championship with a single win next weekend in Sauk Rapids. The Lumberjacks’ magic number is down to just 10 points, meaning they would earn the crown by either winning both against the Bulls and one additional win, or winning out against the rest of their West Division brethren and taking one regulation win from North Iowa.
Both Friday and Saturday’s games get underway at 7:30 p.m. at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
Season tickets are now on sale for the North Iowa Bulls’ inaugural season in the North American Hockey League in 2020-21. 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.
Granite City 1 1 2 – 4
North Iowa 0 3 0 – 3
1st Period-1, Granite City, Simon 20 (Cromwell, Metsa), 7:16. Penalties-Reed Gcy (interference-minor), 3:39; Sofo Nio (tripping-minor), 6:50.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, Smith 12 (Nauss, Freeman), 7:03. 3, North Iowa, Sloth 1 (Savaloja, Smith), 15:23 (PP). 4, North Iowa, Campion 15 (Sullivan, Smith), 17:25 (PP). 5, Granite City, Simon 21 (Cromwell), 19:59. Penalties-Richert Gcy (slashing-major, slashing-gm), 12:39; Halliday Gcy (high sticking-minor), 13:52.
3rd Period-6, Granite City, O’Leary 11 (Prifrel, Bartoo), 1:43. 7, Granite City, Skime 9 (Daikawa), 8:31. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Granite City 9-5-8-22. North Iowa 14-15-7-36.
Power Play Opportunities-Granite City 1 / 1; North Iowa 2 / 3.
Goalies-Granite City, Huber 14-4-0-1 (36 shots-33 saves). North Iowa, Gutjahr 7-2-1-0 (22 shots-18 saves).
Linesmen-Grant Crowell, Gabe Halonen.