MASON CITY, Iowa – The North Iowa Bulls may not yet have the dominant 60-minute showing they’ve attempted to put together this season, but their two games against the Bismarck Bobcats this weekend may be the closest they’ve come to the perfect effort they’ve sought.
One might say they came up only a few minutes short of it on Saturday night, allowing two goals in the second period and a brief lead before storming back for four unanswered goals to beat the Bobcats by a 6-3 count and earn the sweep for the weekend.
Less than 24 hours after finishing a four-goal performance for the ages, Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) added to it with a snipe from the left-wing faceoff circle, beating Aksel Reid on the back post to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead just 3:50 into the game. The lead jumped to two goals just 49 seconds later, when Ryan Coughlin’s (Charlotte, N.C./Amarillo Bulls) pass across the top of the slot caught Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) at the top of the right-wing circle, and his snap beat Reid for a 2-0 advantage.
By the 6:06 mark, though, the Bobcats had answered, with Jon Ziskie’s shot from the left half-wall tipping off of Adam Pietila and into the North Iowa net, pushing the lead back to 2-1.
Bismarck would grab the lead in a three-and-a-half minute span of the second period, starting with an odd give-and-go between Isaac Novak and Drew Holt – Novak’s return pass bounced off of Holt’s stick on his way to the net, but he played the bounce perfectly to beat Hunter Garvey (San Diego, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) at 4:51 of the period and tie the game at 2-2.
At 8:25, the Bobcats snagged their only lead of the game, when Jake McLean flipped a 2-on-2 into a 3-on-2 chance in the North Iowa zone, and his backdoor feed to Quinn Rudrud on the back post gave Bismarck a 3-2 advantage.
That lead lasted less than three minutes – Joey Potter’s (Pittsburgh, Pa./Twin City Thunder) pass from the slot found Anthony Domina (Severna Park, Md./Northern Cyclones) low in the left-wing circle, and his one-timer with 8:48 left in the period hit the reset button on the game at 3-3. Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) gave North Iowa the lead for good just 74 seconds later, banging home a long-distance rebound off of a right-wing shot from Rapalje.
With 4:20 left in the period, the Bulls added some insurance, with Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) popping in a second-chance goal off of Coughlin’s initial shot. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) finished the scoring at 5:32 of the third, sneaking in a backhand chance along the goal line that found a path past backup goaltender Erik Forss.
After a night where the teams combined for 75 shots on goal, the numbers were far more ordinary on Saturday, with the Bulls out-shooting their visitors by a 26-23 margin. Reid took the loss with 10 saves on 14 North Iowa chances, falling to 0-3 for the year, while Forss made 10 saves on 12 shots in relief on the way to a no-decision. Garvey’s 20 saves were plenty to earn his sixth win of the season.
“Our line was really buzzing this weekend,” said Mesic of him, Rapalje and Logan Dombrowsky (Stevens Point, Wis./Amarillo Bulls). “(Carter) Rapalje was good this weekend, so I think our line was good. They’re a good team, we just outplayed them this weekend.”
Mesic closed out the weekend with five points of his own, earning the game-winner on Saturday plus four assists. Rapalje, Mesic and Domina all finished Saturday’s game with a goal and an assist apiece. In all, 11 North Iowa players notched at least one point in the contest.
Sitting just two points back of the Austin Bruins with a game in hand, North Iowa and Austin square off next weekend in one of the teams’ six home-and-home weekends this season. The Bulls travel to Minnesota for Friday’s game, while the Saturday contest is set for the Mason City Arena. Friday’s game gets underway at 7:05 p.m., while Saturday’s contest is set for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. Live streaming coverage for both games is available on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
Saturday’s game against the Bruins is Military Appreciation Night, with active and retired military receiving free admission to the game. Tickets to that game and all North Iowa home games are on sale now – to purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Bismarck 1 2 0 – 3
North Iowa 2 3 1 – 6
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Rapalje 11 (Mesic), 3:50. 2, North Iowa, Japchen 5 (Coughlin, Carroll), 4:39. 3, Bismarck, Pietila 5 (Ziskie, Gangl), 6:06. Penalties-Miller Bis (tripping-minor), 18:41.
2nd Period-4, Bismarck, Holt 4 (Novak, Beacom), 4:51. 5, Bismarck, Rudrud 4 (Mclean, Hanson), 8:25. 6, North Iowa, Domina 2 (Potter, Hartley), 11:12. 7, North Iowa, Mesic 5 (Rapalje, Mesic), 12:26. 8, North Iowa, Scott 6 (Coughlin, Carroll), 15:40. Penalties-Johnson Bis (tripping-minor), 2:51; Mesic Nio (boarding-minor), 12:57.
3rd Period-9, North Iowa, Bulger 6 (Domina), 5:32. Penalties-Gangl Bis (slashing-minor), 4:03; Carroll Nio (tripping-minor), 5:09.
Shots on Goal-Bismarck 8-6-9-23. North Iowa 10-6-10-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Bismarck 0 / 2; North Iowa 0 / 3.
Goalies-Bismarck, Reid 0-3-0-0 (14 shots-10 saves); Forss 3-6-1-0 (12 shots-10 saves). North Iowa, Garvey 6-2-0-2 (23 shots-20 saves).
Linesmen-Reilly Hickey, Cameron Johnson.