MASON CITY, Iowa – The return to the North Iowa Ice Arena in 2016 looked much the same as it did in 2015 for the Bulls, with North Iowa rolling to its 25th game in a row in a 7-2 win over the Rochester Ice Hawks. An offensive onslaught helped the Bulls pad their lead in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League's Central Division, behind 54 shots against Ice Hawks netminder Zach Mains. As wide as the final margin turned out to be, though, it could have been even wider – several turnovers in the neutral zone and high in the Bulls' defensive zone led to breakaway opportunities that the team didn't capitalize upon.
"We talked about wanting to execute on a higher percentage of our chances than Thursday night," said head coach Todd Sanden. "When you score seven goals and win 7-2 you're happy with the win, obviously, and maybe their goalie was that good tonight and he was that good on Thursday night. I think we need to get back to it a little bit and coming out of break, we're just not as sharp as we need to be."
After going 3-for-9 on the man-advantage against Rochester in Thursday's 6-1 win, North Iowa opened the scoring with another powerplay tally from the NA3HL's leading scorer, as Brett Gravelle's (Forest Lake, Minn/North Iowa Bulls) high wrist shot from the left faceoff circle beat Mains above the shoulders and put the home team ahead at 7:21 of the opening stanza. The second goal came in short order, on Quinn Fuchs's (Minot, N.D./Minot Minotauros) breakaway wrister just 72 seconds later.
The Bulls added to their lead twice early in the second period, starting with a goal from Sean Mallonee (Kennewick, Wash./Everett Silvertips) on a second rebound in a crowd in front of Mains, giving his squad a three-goal lead just 1:24 into the frame. At 2:44, Austin Jackson (Waterloo, Iowa/Minnesota Magicians) lit the lamp after receiving a long-distance pass along the left wall from Tommy Hall (St. Cloud, Minn/Janesville Jets). Jackson walked it in front and pinballed it around the back of the net to build the lead to 4-0. Late-period goals by Nick Paulson (14:20) and Trey McMillen (18:27) turned some of the momentum back Rochester's way and cut the deficit to 4-2 heading to the third period.
The final period belonged to the Bulls, though, with Riley Meyer's (Carver, Minn/Chicago Fury AAA) top-shelf goal high of the faceoff circle putting them back on the board at the 8:11 mark. A roughing penalty from Nick Paulson opened up another chance on the man-advantage, and Jeff Solow (Naples, Fla./Kenai River Brown Bears) took advantage with a laser slap shot that beat Mains low along the ice. A 6-2 lead off of Solow's goal at 13:37 became a 7-2 lead with 4:08 to play, on a 4-on-4 opportunity when Adam Orn (Ramsey, Minn/North Iowa Bulls) skated to the middle of the slot and ripped a high wrist shot over Mains's left shoulder to finish the scoring for the night.
"We're in some different line combinations this week, moving some guys around coming out of break," said Sanden. "Maybe we just need to go back to what was working before the break, and ride that out and see where it takes us. You probably shouldn't try to fix what's not broken."
David Johnson (Bloomington, Minn/North Iowa Bulls) missed out on his first shutout of the season, but remained unbeaten in 12 decisions, making 24 saves on 26 chances. The win pushes North Iowa to 26-0-1 for the season, and drops Rochester to 7-19-0, with the Ice Hawks earning their first multi-goal game as a team in four outings. It's been a busy weekend for the visitors, finishing a stretch of three games in three nights against the NA3HL's hottest team. The Bulls return to the Madhouse in Mason City on Friday and Saturday, January 8 and 9 against former West Division foe Minnesota. Both nights' games between the Bulls and the Flying Aces are set to face off at 7:30 p.m.