NA3HL SILVER CUP CHAMPIONSHIP
METRO JETS (#1, POOL B – 4-0) (ROSTER, STATS)
vs. NORTH IOWA BULLS (#1, POOL A – 3-1) (ROSTER, STATS)
SUNDAY, APR. 3 – 1:00 P.M., CANLAN ICE SPORTS (ROMEOVILLE, ILL.)
IN A NUTSHELL: 55 games for the Metro Jets and North Iowa Bulls have come down to one for the NA3HL Silver Cup National Championship.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa is 1-0-1 against the Jets – the teams have not met since playing at a showcase event in Blaine, Minn. on Dec. 1, 2012. The Bulls won that game, 9-0, but lost in a shootout to the Jets 4-3 in their first-ever meeting on Dec. 7, 2011.
SEMIFINAL RECAP: Former division rivals North Iowa and Twin City locked into a heavyweight bout in the semifinals, and again the Bulls fell behind in the first period with a Yannick Zehnder goal at 12:37 of the period. A three-goal outburst propelled Todd Sanden’s team into the lead, including a pivotal power play goal by Austin Jackson with just 2:06 left on the second-period clock, but that 3-2 lead would disappear at 7:17 of the third, on a 2-on-1 goal from Zak Lambrecht. Enter Kohei Sato, who had scored eight game-winners for North Iowa previously in the regular season and postseason, and had brought the crowd to its feet with a breakaway goal to get his team on the board for the first time. Sato weaved through defenders along the right half-boards, and turned to the slot to face and fire for the final goal in a 4-3 victory.
ON THE OTHER SIDE: The Jets had to hold off Great Falls with a nailbiting, 5-4 victory. Tanner Congdon and Miles Giorgione put the Americans in the lead after a scoreless first period, before the Jets roared back with three unanswered goals to end the second period. After a game-tying tally from Tegan Harrington less than five minutes into the third, Matt Dempsey earned the lead for good for the Jets with 9:12 remaining, and Matthias Tellstrom lofted home an empty-netter with 53 seconds remaining. Tyler Garcia’s response at 19:31 was not enough to get the Americans even and get the game into overtime.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at FASTHockey.com. Today’s Silver Cup championship will be streamed exclusively on FASTHockey. Bulls play-by-play voice Austin Draude will have the call for today’s game in Romeoville, starting about 10 minutes before the opening faceoff.
HISTORY LESSON: The Metro Jets will be seeking their first league championship since 2002, and first in the NA3HL Silver Cup era. Current Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Cooper made his junior coaching debut with the Jets, leading them to the 2001 and ’02 Hurster Cups in the former Central States Hockey League and the ’02 USA Hockey Junior B national title.
THE LAST OF THE UNBEATENS: Of the eight qualifiers to the Silver Cup national championship tournament, only the Jets have remained unbeaten in the last four games. Each team knows something about long winning streaks – Metro went on a midseason tear, winning 17 in a row after a 15-3-2 start. North Iowa lost its second game of the season in overtime against the Wisconsin Whalers before reeling off a league-record 27 wins in a row.
THE EXTRA SESSION: Should it come to a fourth period or more, each team in today’s game has the requisite experience handling more than 60 minutes of hockey. Metro played three games during the regular season that went beyond the distance, losing two of them (one in a shootout). The Bulls have ground out seven overtime games, including the semifinal against the Steel, and won four. None reached the 65-minute mark and the ensuing shootout.
ONE MORE DAY: Each team is sure to have eligible players receiving looks from higher-level junior clubs, but this will be a momentous day for a number of players on each side – the North Iowa Bulls are one of the oldest teams in the league with 13 players born in 1995 (only one – Sean Mallonee – was born in 1998) and Justin Quenneville’s Jets team carries eight players with a ’95 birth year and none born later than 1997. All 21 players will turn 21 this calendar year (or already have) and will be ineligible to play junior hockey again following this season.
MAN IN THE BOX: It’s hard to glean too much from such a small sample size but the Bulls’ special teams have gotten right back to work in Romeoville. North Iowa has buried scoring chances on three of their 12 power-play opportunities in Illinois, while the Jets remain scoreless while up a man. As for the penalty-killing units, the Bulls have fought off all six chances while shorthanded, while opposing power plays stand 2-for-9 against the Jets. During the regular season, North Iowa had the top power-play unit in the league (30.5 percent) and the second-best penalty kill (90.8 percent) – Metro’s power play was 12th (21.1 percent) and the penalty-kill was fourth-best (89.4 percent).
HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES….A LOT: Both North Iowa and Metro have relied heavily upon particular players to lead the charge over the last four games heading into this one – of the eight leading scorers at this weekend’s tournament, seven play for either the Bulls or the Jets. Kevin Shand (4 goals, 4 assists) is the only player in the tournament with eight points but three others (Jacob Drinkard, Matthias Tellstrom, Kohei Sato) have seven apiece. Six of Sato’s points have come via the goal, leading the tournament. As for the defensemen, Connor Bump is far and away the top scorer with four goals and six points – no other defenseman this weekend has even earmarked one puck for the back of the net.