ST. CLOUD, Minn. – North Iowa’s visit to the Municipal Athletic Complex on Saturday night is a game that will go down in the Bulls’ history books on many different levels.
North Iowa defenseman Casey Roepke (Erin, Wis./Lincoln Stars) celebrated a milestone with his 100th NAHL appearance, and longtime NA3HL Bull Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/Mason City Toros) earned a call-up from the NA3HL for his 100th junior game, fresh off of scoring his 100th junior point Friday in an 8-3 Mason City win at the Minnesota Loons.
Brett Morich (Phoenix, Ariz./Jamestown Rebels) and Jake LaRusso (Colts Neck, N.J./New Jersey Titans) each scored their first goals in a Bulls uniform as well, and North Iowa used two scoring bursts to power past the St. Cloud Norsemen, 7-4, in the first-ever meeting between the teams.
St. Cloud struck first, just 3:07 into the contest, when Blake Mesenburg played a pass out front to Blake Perbix, who was waiting on the doorstep to bang in a one-timer and give the Norsemen a 1-0 lead. That goal was St. Cloud’s extra shot in a 12-11 period on the shots-on-goal counter.
Down 1-0 for more than 22 minutes, North Iowa quickly flipped the tables, piling up four goals in a span of just 2:46 to snag the lead for good. LaRusso opened the scoring for the Bulls at 5:15 of the period, rushing down the left wing and firing a frozen rope past Ethan Dahlmeir on his stick side to tie the game.
“We had a tough first period coming off of the bus,” said LaRusso. “In the second period, I got my legs under me, and I got lucky and put that one in the back of the net.”
Just 35 seconds later, Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) grabbed the lead that North Iowa would never relinquish, whipping the puck past Dahlmeir into the top of the net from the right-wing faceoff circle. 65 seconds later, Jack Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) shot from above that same circle clipped off of Dahlmeir and snuck off of the bottom of the crossbar – positioned on the goal line, referee Tatu Kunto ruled a goal, giving North Iowa a 3-1 lead.
The spurt wrapped up at 8:01 of the period, when Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) teed up a rocket from the right point that snuck through Dahlmeir and into the net for the three-goal lead. That goal led to a St. Cloud timeout and the end of the night for Dahlmeir.x
The Norsemen were far from done with North Iowa, however – with 3:37 remaining in the period, Evan Murr lined up his shot at the left-wing faceoff dot in front of Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) and snapped a shot over his left shoulder, dropping the lead back to 4-2 going to the third period.
St. Cloud moved within striking distance just 3:48 into the third, when Kade Peterson stuffed home a rebound off of Murr’s shot down the slot, putting the Norsemen back within 4-3.
The Bulls moved to take back control at the midway point of the third period, starting on a power play thanks to a slashing call against Gunnar Johnson – with 10:06 left, North Iowa cranked up the passing pace, and Michael Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) pass found Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) at the middle of the slot for a wrist shot that beat relief goaltender Tomas Bolo for a 5-3 lead.
Just 34 seconds later, Bolo’s attempt to clear away a right-wing chance from Bulger ended up in front of Simone Dadie (Brunico, Italy/Okanagan Europe U18), who banged in the second chance, pushing the lead back to a three-goal margin.
Morich closed out the scoring for North Iowa with 3:15 remaining, leaning into a wrister from the left-wing faceoff dot that beat Bolo in the upper corner and stretched the lead to 7-3, the Bulls’ largest margin of the night.
Just as the Norsemen had the first word, though, they also had the last – Ethan Lindahl fed the puck to Murr in front of the net, and a last-second move to his forehand allowed Murr to toss the puck past Garvey for St. Cloud’s fourth and final goal with just 26 seconds remaining.
Five different Bulls finished the night with multi-point efforts, but nobody outdid North Iowa defenseman Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls), who ended the night with four assists. Murr’s three points headlined the offensive effort for St. Cloud in the loss.
“I feel great. It’s been awesome being up in Iowa for the past week,” said Morich. “I’m super thankful to get that out of the way and get the monkey off the back, and keep winning some games.”
Garvey stretched his personal winning streak, and the Bulls’ run, to five games with 38 saves on 42 Norsemen chances, improving to 9-2-0-2 on the year. Bolo took the loss in relief, making 12 saves on 15 North Iowa shots. Dahlmeir escaped with the no-decision, stopping 17 of the 21 North Iowa shots he faced.
Rapalje’s goal also allowed North Iowa to return to the scoring column on the power play for the first time in four games, ending a stretch of 14 straight successful penalty kills for Bulls opponents. The North Iowa penalty-killing unit wiped out both of St. Cloud’s power play chances in the game.
North Iowa improved its record to 13-4-0-2 on the year, extending its Central Division lead to three points with two games in hand on the Austin Bruins after Austin’s 5-1 loss to the Minot Minotauros on Saturday evening. The Bulls’ and Bruins’ 12-game “border battle” reaches its halfway mark next weekend when the two teams meet up for a Thanksgiving weekend home-and-home. North Iowa travels to the Riverside Arena on Friday night for a 7 p.m. puck drop, while the Bulls host Saturday’s affair. Saturday’s game is set for a 7:30 p.m. opening faceoff at the Mason City Arena. Live streaming coverage of both games is available on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
Next Saturday’s game is a “Black Friday Weekend Battle” for the Bulls, with special-edition black t-shirts for sale at Brutus’s Locker Room Sponsored by the Christie Door Store, and fans are encouraged to wear black to the game. Fans who wear their pajamas to the game after participating in the Mason City Chamber’s “Jingle Mingle Jammie Crawl” will receive $2 off their admission at the door Saturday night. Tickets to that game, and all North Iowa home games, are on sale now – to purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 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 0 4 3 – 7
St. Cloud 1 1 2 – 4
1st Period-1, St. Cloud, Perbix 6 (Mesenburg, Lajoie), 3:07. Penalties-Perbix Stn (hooking-minor), 7:03; Mesic Nio (holding-minor), 11:18; Perbix Stn (slashing-minor), 17:06.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, LaRusso 5 (Scott), 5:15. 3, North Iowa, Bulger 8 (Japchen, Vlasich), 5:50. 4, North Iowa, Mesic 3 (Mesic, Boxer), 6:55. 5, North Iowa, Japchen 6 (LaRusso, Hartley), 8:01. 6, St. Cloud, Murr 4 16:23. Penalties-Young Stn (delay of game-minor), 10:57; Mesenburg Stn (hooking-minor), 17:22.
3rd Period-7, St. Cloud, Peterson 5 (Murr, Bisson), 3:48. 8, North Iowa, Rapalje 14 (Mesic, Vlasich), 9:54 (PP). 9, North Iowa, Dadie 3 (Bulger, Vlasich), 10:28. 10, North Iowa, Morich 1 (Dombrowsky, Vlasich), 16:45. 11, St. Cloud, Murr 5 (Lindahl), 19:34. Penalties-Japchen Nio (roughing-minor), 5:43; Johnson Stn (slashing-minor), 9:26; Mexico Nio (roughing-minor), 18:29; Mesenburg Stn (hooking-minor), 18:29.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-16-9-36. St. Cloud 12-15-15-42.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 5; St. Cloud 0 / 2.
Goalies-North Iowa, Garvey 9-2-0-2 (42 shots-38 saves). St. Cloud, Dahlmeir 2-2-0-0 (21 shots-17 saves); Bolo 5-3-0-0 (15 shots-12 saves).
Linesmen-Ryan Szymanski, Devin Kasperek.