MASON CITY, Iowa – With 1,135 fans in the building, Saturday night’s atmosphere at the North Iowa Ice Arena was a peak old-time hockey atmosphere.
And if the atmosphere didn’t scream “old-time hockey” at the beginning of the game, it certainly did at the end. A full-line skirmish and a one-on-one goalie fight with 42 seconds to go simply put the cap on the North Iowa Bulls’ 8-3 rout of the Alexandria Blizzard, and put an end to 782 games’ worth of hockey excitement at the building long known as the “Barn” in Mason City hockey circles.
The Bulls close out the arena with a record of 173-23-8, a winning percentage of .868 on the home ice since their first outing in 2011. It didn’t take long for the Bulls to bring the crowd to its feet, with Nico Aguilera (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville South H.S.) tossing one to the net from the left-wing hashmark. The turnaround shot hit the near post before bouncing off the back of Ville Hyttinen and trickling in for a 1-0 lead.
North Iowa took the one-goal lead to the intermission, but it took less than three minutes out of the break for Alexandria to wipe out the lead. A sharp-angle shot from the right wing was kicked out wide, bouncing off of Dylan Duckson and wobbling into the net at the 2:59 mark to tie the game.
A goal at the 8:54 mark, though, merely fired up the Bulls – Callahan Nauss’s (Wayzata, Minn./Phoenix Jr. Coyotes) play from the top of the zone wasn’t a shot so much as it was a pinball pass to the edge of the slot. Justin Daly (Delano, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) played the role of the bumper, and the Bulls tilted the table in their favor with a 2-1 lead.
North Iowa found itself firmly in control once the clock got under six minutes left in the period – Daly snuck one past Hyttinen under the crossbar on the power play with 5:49 left, and Ryan Hempel (Katy, Texas/Elliot Lake Wildcats) snuck to the backdoor for a one-timer off a pass from Jac Triemert (Woodbury, Minn./Woodbury H.S.) just 16 seconds later.
Already up 4-1 going to the final period, North Iowa simply continued to add on in the third. With 13:21 left, Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./Odessa Jackalopes) slipped a setup pass to Jordan Roo (Champlin, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) on the doorstep, and Roo finished with a quick one-timer to make it 5-1.
After Daly’s snap from the left-wing faceoff circle that made it 6-1 with 7:21 to go, the race was one to be the last man to score in the “Barn.” With 5:41 left, Hempel did his best to put his stamp on the game, putting one in the top corner to make it 7-1.
The Blizzard did their best to cut into the lead and try to spoil the Bulls’ race for the history books, with Austin McNeil cutting the lead to 7-2 with 5:07 to go by tipping in a shot from Ike Taraszewski right at the goal line to Evan Babekuhl’s (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) right. Derek Dropik beat Babekuhl low along the ice with 3:58 to go, dropping the lead further to 7-3.
Dalton Saltness (Forest Lake, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) became the final scorer in the “Barn” with 1:06 to go, sweeping around a defender at the bottom of the faceoff circle and shoveling in a backhand to Hyttinen’s glove side to push the lead back to 8-3.
The old-time hockey barn finally got its “old-time hockey” moment with 41.9 seconds to go, starting with a couple of cross checks along the half-wall in the Alexandria end of the rink from Carter Rieland – a pile-up ensued and every player on the rink found himself involved. Finally, Babekuhl skated to the Alexandria end of the rink and challenged Hyttinen to square off in a final bout.
Hyttinen made 29 saves in the loss, dropping his record to 6-4-2-0 for the season, while Babekuhl picked up his sixth win with 20 saves on 23 chances. The Bulls notched a power play goal for the ninth straight game, going 2-for-5 on the man-advantage. Neither relief goaltender – Bailey Rosch or Dysen Skinner (Billings, Mont./North Iowa Bulls) – faced a shot in the game’s final 41.9 seconds.
North Iowa moves to 20-3-2-0 with the win, while Alexandria slips to 10-7-2-1 with the loss. The Bulls’ next home game will be in the brand-new Mason City Arena, with construction currently in the finishing stages at Southbridge Mall in downtown Mason City. Just three weeks after playing in the North Iowa Ice Arena’s final game, the Blizzard will also compete in the new arena’s first game on December 28. The Bulls’ next contest takes them to Rochester to face the Grizzlies on Friday evening, with the opening puck drop at 7:05 p.m.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets to upcoming Bulls home games, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
Alexandria 0 1 2 – 3
North Iowa 1 3 4 – 8
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Aguilera 7 (Triemert, Nauss), 3:16. Penalties-Duckson Alx (slashing-minor), 7:29; Daly Nio (kneeing-minor), 18:11.
2nd Period-2, Alexandria, Dropik 9 (Duckson, Sanborn), 3:01. 3, North Iowa, Daly 3 (Nauss, Saltness), 8:54. 4, North Iowa, Daly 4 (Vercellono, Saltness), 14:11 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Hempel 7 (Triemert, Aguilera), 14:27. Penalties-Kitagawa Alx (interference-minor), 11:25; Sivets Alx (tripping-minor), 12:13; Roitman Nio (hooking-minor), 14:54.
3rd Period-6, North Iowa, Roo 13 (Wagner, Eha), 6:39 (PP). 7, North Iowa, Daly 5 (Saltness), 12:39. 8, North Iowa, Hempel 8 (Aguilera, Triemert), 14:17. 9, Alexandria, McNeil 8 (Taraszewski, Jacobs), 14:53. 10, Alexandria, Dropik 10 (Duckson, Popowski), 16:02. 11, North Iowa, Saltness 4 (Nauss, Hempel), 18:54. Penalties-Taraszewski Alx (high sticking-minor), 4:15; Dropik Alx (tripping-minor), 5:55; Haberman Alx (holding-minor), 17:05; Stewart Nio (holding-minor), 17:05; Hyttinen Alx (fighting (instigator, fighting-major, removing own helmet-gm)-mn, fighting-major, removing own helmet-gm), 19:19; Rieland Alx (roughing-minor, cross checking-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 19:19; Sanborn Alx (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 19:19; Babekuhl Nio (fighting (instigator, fighting-major, fighting (instigator)-gm)-mn, fighting-major, fighting (instigator)-gm), 19:19; Petronack Nio (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 19:19; Triemert Nio (roughing-minor, unsportsmanlike conduct – 10 minute), 19:19.
Shots on Goal-Alexandria 9-8-6-23. North Iowa 11-14-12-37.
Power Play Opportunities-Alexandria 0 / 2; North Iowa 2 / 5.
Goalies-Alexandria, Hyttinen 6-4-2-0 (37 shots-29 saves); Rosch 3-2-0-1 (0 shots-0 saves). North Iowa, Babekuhl 6-1-0-0 (23 shots-20 saves); Skinner 9-1-2-0 (0 shots-0 saves).
Linesmen-Grant Hendrich, J. Morrison.