BLAINE, Minn. – With three first-place teams on the schedule right before the Christmas break, the North Iowa Bulls almost feel like they’re taking final exams before going home for the holidays.
Did they ace their first test against the Lewiston/Auburn Nordiques on Sunday evening? No. Did they pass it by a solid margin? You bet.
Todd Sanden’s team racked up 17 of the first 18 shots and went up by three goals early in a 5-2 victory over the Nordiques, remaining unbeaten in regulation in their last 27 outings.
“The end result was what we wanted to see,” said Sanden. “I think the effort was good, but we need to clean up the execution a bit. We had an opportunity to make some plays and fumbled pucks, and hopefully the execution gets better as we move through [the Showcase].”
The Bulls controlled the edges of the crease from start to finish – Cam Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) dug a puck off the end boards and pulled it out to the half-wall for Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), who made a tumbling pass to the edge of the net at 5:32 of the first period, and Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) put it away for the opening goal.
Alex Timm (Sand Creek, Wis./Northwest H.S.) heaved one ahead for Dayton Honkanen (New Brighton, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) less than a minute-and-a-half later, and Honkanen buried one on the breakaway to double the lead. Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) helped to push the lead to 3-0 after grabbing the puck away from a Nordiques player, skating it below the goal line and tossing it in front for Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to put another one away.
Lewiston/Auburn got a couple of those goals back in short order, starting at the 41-second mark of the second period on a goal from Colby Audette. Audette would set up Evan Sullivan just under the seven-minute mark of the second period to wipe out the insurance goal.
Both teams got a turn on the man-advantage in the game, but the Bulls weren’t interested in spending a lot of time practicing their power-play work. Shayne Plummer was hit with a tripping infraction with three minutes to go in the second period – just 12 seconds later, Bump nailed Clemons with a tape-to-tape pass on the doorstep, and another short-distance tap-in made it a 4-2 contest.
The Bulls finished off the scoring early in the third, on a goal from Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./Alexandria Blizzard), and the three-goal margin that North Iowa built so early in the game ended up as the final margin of the game.
“I thought we could have had a bit more of a lead in the first period, if we had been a bit cleaner in our execution,” said Sanden. “Even through struggling a bit on that side of it, they still made some pretty nice plays. That power-play goal Clemons had was a tic-tac-toe play from [Shane Bernhardson] (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) down to Bump on the wall, and he brought it to the middle a bit and just found Clemons with his stick down there on the back-side for an easy tap.”
North Iowa’s defensive unit came to play as well, allowing just 15 shots on Drew Scites (Plymouth, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), who stopped 13 of those chances. Lewiston/Auburn was able to manage just four shots on net in the final 20 minutes.
Sanden’s team is lined up for a midday matinee on the second day of the NA3HL Showcase Monday, when they face off against defending Frontier Division champion and current frontrunner Yellowstone. The Bulls and Quake are set for an 11 a.m. faceoff at the Schwan Super Rink, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.