THURSDAY, FEB. 11 – 7:00 P.M., GREEN ISLAND ICE ARENA (La CROSSE, WISC.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (33-1-3, 69 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ La CROSSE FREEZE (26-10-0, 52 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa heads on the road for a weeknight visit to the current Central Division runner-up, in a makeup contest from January.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Bulls lead, 7-0-0 (Thursday's game is the last in the inaugural regular-season series).
SATURDAY, FEB. 13 – 7:05 P.M., ROCHESTER RECREATION CENTER (ROCHESTER, MINN.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (33-1-3, 69 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
@ ROCHESTER ICE HAWKS (10-26-1, 21 pts) (ROSTER, STATS)
IN A NUTSHELL: After a night off, North Iowa returns to the highway for a short Saturday night rivalry visit to Rochester, with the possibility of clinching the division championship in play.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Bulls lead, 3-0-0 (North Iowa has outscored the Ice Hawks 20-3 in their first three meetings of the year).
LAST WEEKEND'S RECAP: The defending national Tier III champs will have to wait yet another year to cinch their first regular-season series sweep against the Twin City Steel. The Steel snatched a win on the road on Friday night, falling behind 4-2 with just over six minutes to go before Luc Kreuser snapped one past David Johnson to cut the lead to a goal. The Bulls almost held on for a home win, but Joe Costello used an empty-net situation to his team's advantage for a tying goal with 24 seconds remaining – Costello ended it with 42 seconds remaining in the overtime period for his second goal of the night and a 5-4 overtime win, spoiling Austin Jackson's second hat trick of the season. A 3-for-4 night on the power play the following night in New Ulm, Minnesota kept the Steel from earning the sweep – Zack St. John picked up the decision in a 5-2 win, and Brett Gravelle posted another pair of goals.
NEXT HOME GAME: The North Iowa Ice Arena will host high school hockey and the annual Mason City "Battle of the Badges" in the next three weeks, but no NA3HL action. North Iowa begins an eight-game homestand (including an initial Silver Cup playoff game) on Friday, February 26 against the Rochester Ice Hawks.
COVERAGE: All Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at fasthockey.com. The free audio webcast schedule on NorthIowaBulls.com resumes with North Iowa's home game Friday, February 26 against the Rochester Ice Hawks.
LORDY, LORDY, HE'S GOT FORTY: Brett Gravelle is beginning to pull away in the race for the NA3HL's goal-scoring lead. He is the first player in the league to reach 40 goals, thanks to his pair against the Steel last Saturday night. St. Louis's Frankie Melton is not far behind, with 37 goals. It's a bit of a stretch behind those two, though – the next three players on the list are stuck on 33 goals apiece.
CHASING HISTORY: With 10 regular-season games to go, Gravelle also has an outside shot at the Bulls' single-season goal-scoring record of 55, set by Rihards Marenis during the 2013-14 season. His average of 1.2 goals per game this year would put him just shy of the record, and he's scored just eight goals in his last 10 games. Working in his favor, though, is his pace against the upcoming teams on the schedule – the Bulls veteran has scored 17 goals in 12 games so far against Central Division teams.
MISSED IT BY THAT MUCH: David Johnson is out of the running for a perfect regular-season record following the overtime loss to Twin City last Friday night. That extra-session defeat snapped an 18-game personal winning streak for the Bloomington, Minnesota native and dropped his record this season to 16-0-1. His 1.70 goals-against average and 93.7-percent saves rate remains second in the league, though, with both coming in behind only teammate Tommi Ahlgren (1.17, .956).
FACE TIME: The Bulls' two opponents this weekend are coming off of a lopsided faceoff last weekend in La Crosse, with the Freeze walking out of their home building with a record-breaking 14-4 victory over the Ice Hawks. La Crosse took a 6-1 lead into the first intermission and threw five more goals on the board in the second period. Understandably, the game took a physical turn after the initial period – four players were ejected from last week's game, plus three 10-minute misconduct penalties handed out in the second period. The 14 goals scored by La Crosse was the most allowed by Rochester in their brief 3HL history, and the most scored by the Freeze during their 3HL history as well.
OUT OF THE GATE: North Iowa has endured some slow starts during the last few weeks, but the numbers remain firmly in favor for both the Bulls and Freeze. The Bulls have allowed only 11 goals in the opening 20 minutes of a game this season, while La Crosse is outscoring their opponents better than 2-to-1 prior to the first intermission.
FEELING RIGHT AT HOME: Forward Taylor Trapp could be a big part of La Crosse's offense in Thursday's home game. He's tallied just six points with one goal in eight games away from home, but on the Green Island ice, he's come alive with a team-best 19 points, including 10 goals. His home-and-away contrast is similar to that of Bulls forward Sean Mallonee, who has notched 15 points in 10 games on home ice in the Barn, but just five points in eight games wearing the road sweater.
MAGIC NUMBERS: A win over the Freeze would be pivotal for North Iowa's effort in wrapping up the Central Division regular-season crown before returning home. If the Bulls win Thursday's game, they would be 19 points ahead of La Crosse with just 10 Freeze games to go, meaning a single win or overtime game for the Bulls would give them the first regular-season division title in the league for this year (North Iowa has already wrapped up any possible head-to-head tiebreaker, by virtue of their first three wins in the season series). Rochester's playoff slot is locked in as well, as Chicago can finish with no more than 20 points this season and Rochester can finish with no more than 41.
OUR SPECIAL TONIGHT IS…: North Iowa's 3-for-4 showing on special teams against the Steel last Saturday has pushed them into the top powerplay spot in the league, with Todd Sanden's team capitalizing on 29.9 percent of its chances. Penalties have been a notable downfall for Rochester this season, though, posting the third-lowest percentage on the man-advantage (12.1) this year, and a penalty-killing percentage (77.4) that ranks in the bottom quarter of the 34-team circuit. The Ice Hawks' Kenny Ree is in the midst of one of the more dubious current streaks in the league, drawing a penalty in six straight games. The Bulls also lead the league in power play goals with 55, excelling in special-teams volume as well as efficiency.