Post Game Report 3-24
MASON CITY, Iowa – The North Iowa Bulls are one win away from the NA3HL Silver Cup national championship tournament, and the hero of Friday night’s 5-3 win over the La Crosse Freeze might have been the unlikeliest of them all. Jake Joyaux (Bloomingdale, Ill./Chicago Blues) tossed one in from the blue line on a second-period power play, scoring the first goal of his junior career and the game-winner as North Iowa takes a 1-game-to-0 lead in the best-of-three Central Division finals.
Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) came into the night with a five-game goal-scoring streak, but his pass to Connor Clemons (Savage, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) for a weak-side one-timer at 6:22 of the first period gave the Bulls their first goal of the night.
The La Crosse Freeze pitched a pair on the board before the intermission, though, starting at 10:04 of the opening period. Donny Schultz’s pass off the left-wing wall found Lukas Motloch in the middle of the slot, who buried one over Drew Scites‘s (Plymouth, Minn./Prior Lake H.S.) right shoulder for the tying goal. The go-ahead goal came at 14:18 of the first, as Connor Losen tapped one in on the doorstep to give the visitors their first lead.
That advantage would last for much of the second, but when the second-period goals came, they came in waves. Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./Dallas Stars Elite) buried a pair in the second period, first on a breakaway wrist shot at 11:15 and then on a kick-save rebound from Will Graves with 5:04 remaining in the period.
The lead lasted all of a minute-and-a-half – Horka Sekesi‘s (Munich, Germany/Granite City Lumberjacks) checking-from-behind penalty with 4:47 to go in the second allowed the Freeze to tally on the power play, but La Crosse would give away a chance on Adam Hazlett’s elbowing minor with 2:06 remaining before the break. The wait would be only seven seconds – Joyaux’s blast from the right point navigated its way through the traffic at the net, giving the first-year Bulls defenseman his first junior goal with just 1:59 remaining in the second. That goal also gave the Bulls their last lead of the night.
“This is a really young team, so you need your youth to step up and lead at times, and we have great veteran players here,” said head coach Todd Sanden. “You look at [Studioso] as the youngest player on this team, getting a couple of goals tonight, and Studioso’s been a pretty solid performer for us all year long. Jake’s really been a solid player for us the last two months, and he’s been a go-to guy in the playoffs. He shoots pucks, he makes hard plays, and that’s what you need in the playoffs. It’s not always a skill game in the playoffs – you have to make some hard plays, and Jake Joyaux’s been doing that for six or eight weeks for us.”
By comparison, the third period was rather uneventful, save for a 100-foot stretch pass from Dayton Honkanen (New Brighton, Minn./Soo Eagles) that found Bump at the La Crosse blue line – Bump walked the puck in and buried the insurance goal with 8:12 remaining, and the Freeze never did find an answer the rest of the way.
“You can’t attack if you don’t have speed coming through neutral [ice],” said Sanden. “You have to get pucks behind their defense to get to the net, so the big adjustment from the first to the second [period] was just chipping pucks by. We worked on it for two days specifically in practice, just chipping pucks up the wall and getting to a spot where we could retrieve them. That’s probably the big adjustment the kids made in the second period, just getting pucks to space where we could retrieve and attack in the offensive zone.”
Scites and Graves both made 20 saves in the contest, but a 25-23 shots-on-goal edge for North Iowa gave them the edge in the scoring column as well. Bump’s third-period goal gave him a tally in his sixth straight game, the longest such streak of the year for North Iowa. Scites has also caught fire, winning eight of his last nine decisions since mid-February. This one was another topsy-turvy one for the Freeze – after playing three straight one-goal games last weekend against the Wisconsin Whalers, this one included three ties and a pair of lead changes.
A road trip to La Crosse on Saturday night could bring the curtain down on the Freeze’s season – a Bulls win clinches the defending national champions a spot in the Silver Cup tournament for a fifth straight season. The opening faceoff at the Green Island Ice Arena is set for 7:05 p.m., with a 6:50 p.m. webcast on Mixlr. All Bulls games, home and away are streamed live on HockeyTV – Bulls home games and select road games, including Saturday’s contest, are also audio-streamed at no charge.