FRIDAY, DEC. 11 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IA)
SATURDAY, DEC. 12 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IA)
GRANITE CITY LUMBERJACKS (16-7-0, 32 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ NORTH IOWA BULLS (19-0-1, 39 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: It's no longer a division matchup, but four huge points are on the line between a pair of the NA3HL's fiercest rivals in the final Bulls home games of 2015.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads 27-15-3 in series (7-5-1 in playoffs, 20-10-2 in regular season)
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: North Iowa dominated a weekend set at the Minnesota Flying Aces, with a double-hat-trick performance from Austin Jackson in Friday's 8-1 win. Jackson's six goals tied a team record and the NA3HL mark with those six goals, and Zack St. John closed out the victory with a 40-minute "save." Saturday's game was a bit tighter, with the Aces squeezing a 3-0 first period lead down to a single goal before Tommy Hall's tally with 2:21 iced a 4-2 victory.
THIS WEEKEND'S PROMOTIONS: Circle this Saturday's game on your calendar for this season's Teddy Bear Toss – bring a new or gently-used stuffed toy to toss onto the ice after the home team scores its first goal against the 'Jacks. All toys will be donated to local children. Fans are also invited to join the team on-ice following Saturday's game for a Postgame Skate with the Bulls.
COVERAGE: All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. Saturday's game will also feature a free audio webcast live on northiowabulls.com. Austin Draude will have the play-by-play Saturday night, starting at 7:15 p.m.
SUPER SIX: Jackson's record-tying six-goal night against the Flying Aces on Friday night was more than enough to get the Waterloo, Iowa native onto the list as the NA3HL's Easton Hockey Central Division Star of the Week. It's his first Star of the Week honor this season, and the team's second in a three-week stretch. In all, North Iowa Bulls players have picked up a total of five Star of the Week honors this season.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Newly-acquired forward Sean Mallonee will accompany the team home to the North Iowa Ice Arena this weekend after picking up his first 3HL goal in Saturday's win in Little Falls. Mallonee scored the Bulls' second goal in their 4-2 victory at Minnesota, after joining the team from the WHL's Everett Silvertips. Hometown star Joe Burgmeier will also rejoin the team this week, following a half-season away from the junior game. The Newman Catholic High School grad and former Mohawk hockey star scored the game-winning goal in last year's national title game and was tendered by the NAHL's Fairbanks Ice Dogs, but did not appear in a game for the team.
NO LOVE LOST: This weekend's series is sure to be an intense one – the Lumberjacks have been the most consistent nemesis for North Iowa since both teams joined the circuit in 2011. The two have caught up in the postseason at least once each season, and only a goal-differential tiebreaker kept Granite City from parlaying its national tournament win over the Bulls into an appearance in last year's championship game. The 3HL heavyweights met six times in the playoffs last season and split those six games right down the middle, but the Bulls won six of the teams' eight regular-season contests against each other.
CLIMBING THE LADDER: Both teams have sent players to the Austin Bruins in the first half of the season. 'Jacks goalie Robbie Goor has settled in nicely with the Bruins, starting 6-0 for Granite City this season and then winning in both of his appearances in Austin. Bulls top-liner Brett Gravelle joined the Bruins for this past weekend's series against the Aberdeen Wings, playing in both games and finishing +2 for the weekend. Gravelle appeared in 15 games for the eventual Robertson Cup champion Minnesota Wilderness last season, tallying five points.
WHILE YOU SEE A CHANCE: Regardless of who has been in net for either team, goals – and even scoring chances – have been hard to come by for opponents. Todd Sanden's team is allowing an NA3HL-low goal-and-a-half per game, but the Lumberjacks aren't far behind. Their 2.39 goals-allowed average is also in the league's top five. The 23.7 shots on goal that Brad Wilner's defense has allowed per game is second in the league, and at fourth (24.25), the Bulls defense isn't far behind.
ON THE BOARD FIRST: Scoring first, and holding the lead, will be critical for both teams in this game. Granite City has won 13 of the 17 games in which they've scored first (and are 16-0 when leading after 40 minutes) – the Bulls have scored first in every game and led at the second intermission in all but three of those contests (2-0-1). Dating back to last season, the Bulls have scored first in 11 straight contests in Mason City.