MASON CITY, Iowa – As the North Iowa Bulls and Bismarck Bobcats chase the Minot Minotauros for the Central Division’s final playoff spot, time is getting short for both teams to make their move.
The Bobcats made an important one Friday at the Mason City Arena, building a two-goal lead in the opening eight minutes and holding off a valiant North Iowa comeback effort for a 6-4 win, staying within sight of the Minotauros for the division’s fourth-place spot.
Special teams was an especially large part of the equation early for the Bobcats, flipping the ice as a boarding penalty to Adam Pietila came to an end and a power play began at 3:36 of the first period. Pietila exited the box just as Bismarck entered the Bulls zone 4-on-1, and Quinn Rudrud scored off of a Michael Neumeier drop pass just seven seconds later to make it 1-0.
Bismarck made it a 2-0 game at 7:53 of the period, when Aidan Van Rooyan and Patrick Johnson sneaked a puck across to Brady Egan on the back door – Kyle Kozma (Vaughan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians) got over in time, but Egan snapped the puck into the top corner of the net to double the lead.
North Iowa got some late momentum to close out the period, though, when Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Mason City Toros) found Simone Dadie (Brunico, Italy/Okanagan Europe U18) for a chance in the slot, and Dadie slid the puck past Oskar Spinnars Nordin with 4:52 remaining in the first to trim the lead to 2-1.
The teams exchanged goals in the second period, starting with a penalty-shot goal from Rudrud at 8:59 of the stanza – Rudrud creeped in with the puck on the free shot and beat Kozma on the glove side to push the lead back out to two. However, with 4:41 left in the second, Joey Potter (Pittsburgh, Pa./Twin City Thunder) sprang Jake LaRusso (Colts Neck, N.J./New Jersey Titans) free down the left with a pass from the end boards, and LaRusso raced in to finish off the breakaway with a forehand goal to make it 3-2.
“I saw their [defensemen] were changing, so I decided to stretch the zone, and Potter made a nice pass,” said LaRusso. “Luckily, we got a bounce and I put the puck in on the breakaway.”
Owen Michaels landed a roughing call with 3:33 remaining to put the Bulls on their third power play of the night, but a 2-on-0 breakout for the Bobcats helped put them up 4-2 going to the break, as Ben Troumbly and Jake McLean exchanged passes before Troumbly finished the rush with a goal on Kozma’s stick side.
Egan dug the puck off the right-wing wall and found Johnson in front for the Bobcats’ biggest lead at 7:22 of the third, but North Iowa hit the comeback trail after that – LaRusso struck again at the 12:09 mark on a give-and-go with Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA), and the Bulls got back within one with 5:35 remaining when Carter Rapalje (out-raced two Bismarck defenders from the red line and tossed a forehand past Spinnars Nordin to cut the lead again.
Kozma headed to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:35 remaining, and North Iowa would stave off several close calls in the final moments, especially with a pair of shot blocks from Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) in front of the net. The Bobcats would not ice the game until the final 15 seconds, when Ryan Taylor tossed the puck from the defensive faceoff dot to the back of the empty net for the final margin.
LaRusso had two goals and an assist to headline the North Iowa effort, while Rudrud had two goals and McLean had two assists for Bismarck. Johnson and Egan finished with a goal and an assist apiece.
Bismarck closed out the game at 1-for-3 on the power play, killing off all four North Iowa man-advantages as well. Spinnars Nordin made 20 saves for his 18th win of the season, while Kozma took the loss behind a 20-save performance of his own.
North Iowa fell to 22-25-4-6 with the loss, while Bismarck climbed to 26-27-1-3 ahead of the 12th and final meeting between the teams this season on Saturday night. Minot remains in the driver’s seat for the division’s final playoff spot, with their magic number to clinch the division at three points, and would punch their playoff ticket with a win against the St. Cloud Norsemen and a North Iowa win of any kind on Saturday.
Saturday night, the Bulls welcome young up-and-coming community members as part of their “Junior Community Partner Night” – local 4-H members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts receive $5 admission, with family tickets for these young standouts available for just $7. To purchase advance tickets to Saturday’s game or any upcoming North Iowa 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.
Bismarck 2 2 2 – 6
North Iowa 1 1 2 – 4
1st Period-1, Bismarck, Rudrud 27 (Neumeier, McLean), 3:43 (PP). 2, Bismarck, Egan 12 (Johnson, VanRooyan), 7:53. 3, North Iowa, Dadie 6 (Campion), 15:08. Penalties-Pietila Bis (boarding-minor), 1:36; Scott Nio (hooking-minor), 3:11; Mexico Nio (slashing-minor), 19:02.
2nd Period-4, Bismarck, Rudrud 28 8:59 (PS). 5, North Iowa, LaRusso 9 (Potter, Phelan), 15:19. 6, Bismarck, Troumbly 11 (McLean), 17:09 (SH). Penalties-Troumbly Bis (slashing-minor), 1:23; Mesic Nio (slashing-minor), 11:19; Michaels Bis (roughing-minor), 16:27.
3rd Period-7, Bismarck, Johnson 14 (Egan), 7:22. 8, North Iowa, LaRusso 10 (Mexico, Mesic), 12:09. 9, North Iowa, Rapalje 28 (LaRusso, Vlasich), 14:25. 10, Bismarck, Taylor 12 19:45 (EN). Penalties-Ziskie Bis (holding-minor), 14:58.
Shots on Goal-Bismarck 8-10-8-26. North Iowa 5-14-5-24.
Power Play Opportunities-Bismarck 1 / 3; North Iowa 0 / 4.
Goalies-Bismarck, Spinnars Nordin 18-10-0-2 (24 shots-20 saves). North Iowa, Kozma 7-12-3-1 (25 shots-20 saves).
Linesmen-Reilly Hickey, Dylan Sater.