MASON CITY, Iowa – After taking a 5-3 win on Friday night over the Minot Minotauros and a Robertson Cup playoff berth in the balance in the season’s final few weeks, the North Iowa Bulls expected their visitors to push a little harder Saturday night. The Minotauros were ready to work – even to put in overtime – and their efforts paid off with a 4-3 shootout victory to push the gap back to six Central Division standings points with six games to go in the regular season.
The Bulls needed a bit longer to break through than a few of their other recent outings, but that breakthrough came in the final minutes of the first period – Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) popped home a give-and-go chance down the right wing from Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA) with 6:05 left, giving North Iowa the 1-0 advantage. Just 79 seconds later, the Bulls scored with another quick strike, when Dylan Gajewski (Woodhaven, Mich./Austin Bruins) jogged the puck into the Minot zone and tossed a face-and-fire goal past Zach Sandy to double the lead.
The Bulls controlled the pace early in the second period, putting seven of the first eight shots on the net after going into the period with a 10-9 shots-on-goal advantage. The Minotauros were the only ones to get on the board in the middle stanza, though, scoring with 4:20 left when Huston Karpman weaved the puck through the cones in the North Iowa end and snapped a shot past Kyle Kozma (Vaughan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians) on his stick side.
North Iowa held onto its 2-1 advantage for most of the third period, but the luck finally ran out with 5:32 left, when Karpman took advantage of a turnover in the Bulls zone, slipping the puck back to Connor McGrath – his walk through the zone ended with a drag across the net and a goal to the top half to tie the game at 2-2.
The response that the Bulls so badly needed, came with just 3:08 left – with Graham Skinner serving a cross-checking penalty, Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) swept home a rebound off of an initial shot from Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) at the left point, putting North Iowa back in front.
“I thought they were moving pucks well out there, supporting each other, and that’s what we need on the power play,” said Bulger. “It was a good goal. We needed it.”
That goal seemed to check all of the boxes – a late, go-ahead goal on the power play, where North Iowa had succeeded only twice against Minot this season – but it was not quite enough. With the extra attacker on the ice and Sandy out of the net at the other end, Karpman threw the puck toward the net from the right point, and with Kozma trying to smother the puck to his right, the puck bounced to Colby Joseph on the doorstep, who batted it in with 46 seconds remaining to tie the game at 3-3.
Overtime came and went, and only one player would find the back of the net in the shootout, with Karpman sneaking the puck past Kozma in the top of the third round.
“I thought we played a pretty good game all-around tonight,” said Bulger. “We’ve just got to hold onto leads – we’re not the biggest team, but we sure have speed. We need to use our speed and stick to our game.”
The Bulls did get an outstanding effort from Kozma, who took the shootout loss despite making 31 saves on 34 Minot shots. Mesic’s assist on Rapalje’s power play goal extended his team-leading total to 46 points on the year, while Rapalje posted a goal in his fourth straight game, and Bulger notched a goal for the second straight night.
Karpman and McGrath headlined the night for the Minotauros, with Karpman notching a goal, an assist and the shootout winner. McGrath contributed a goal and two assists, and David Nesburg had two assists of his own. Sandy made 30 saves on 33 North Iowa chances, picking up his 14th win of the year.
North Iowa welcomes the first-place St. Cloud Norsemen on Wednesday night for a rare mid-week game, with four of the Bulls’ final six regular-season games to be played at home and four of the six to be played against the Norsemen. Wednesday’s game is set for a 6:30 p.m. puck drop at the Mason City Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
To purchase advance tickets to Wednesday’s game or any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home contest, 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.
Minot 0 1 2 0 – 4
North Iowa 2 0 1 0 – 3
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Bulger 16 (Mexico, Vlasich), 13:55. 2, North Iowa, Gajewski 17 (Dadie, Morich), 15:14. Penalties-Karpman Mnt (cross checking-minor), 15:59.
2nd Period-3, Minot, Karpman 17 (McGrath, Johnson), 15:39. Penalties-Schwenninger Mnt (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 14:59; Vlasich Nio (roughing-minor), 14:59.
3rd Period-4, Minot, McGrath 14 (Karpman, Nesburg), 14:29. 5, North Iowa, Rapalje 26 (Mesic, Hartley), 16:52 (PP). 6, Minot, Joseph 21 (McGrath, Nesburg), 19:15. Penalties-Dadie Nio (roughing-minor), 8:16; Skinner Mnt (cross checking-minor), 14:56.
OT Period- No Scoring.Penalties-No Penalties
Shootout – Minot 1 (Schwenninger NG, Brown NG, Karpman G), North Iowa 0 (Hartley NG, Rapalje NG, Dombrowsky NG).
Shots on Goal-Minot 9-8-15-2-1-35. North Iowa 10-11-11-1-0-33.
Power Play Opportunities-Minot 0 / 1; North Iowa 1 / 2.
Goalies-Minot, Sandy 14-8-1-1 (33 shots-30 saves). North Iowa, Kozma 7-10-3-1 (34 shots-31 saves).
Linesmen-Evan Davis, Jacob Rozenberg.