AUSTIN, Minn. – Two quick strikes in the first period and the first North Iowa power play goal of the season against Austin powered the Bulls to a 4-2 win over the Bruins Saturday night, evening up a heated head-to-head series between the teams in an ever-tightening North American Hockey League Central Division race. The win saw North Iowa overcome a hostile environment in a sold-out Riverside Arena, on a pink ice rink specially-marked for the Bruins’ annual “Paint The Rink Pink” game.
One night after posting a single shot on goal in the first period, the Bulls fired off 11 of them in the opening 20 minutes on Saturday, but it was the Bruins who scored first, with Anthony Menghini banging in a one-timer out front from Ocean Wallace just 2:50 into the contest.
After that, the Bulls took command, flipping the one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead on goals from Brett Morich (Phoenix, Ariz./Jamestown Rebels) at 15:38 and Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) at 15:44. Morich stuffed the puck into the net after Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) rushed the puck to the net down the left wing, throwing on the brakes in front of Klayton Knapp. Six seconds later, Bulger took a pass off the ensuing faceoff and roped it into the net with a running shot from deep in the right-wing circle.
North Iowa came up empty on its first two power plays of the night in the first period, but a kneeing call against Matys Brassard with 58 seconds remaining in the first period gave the Bulls one final chance before the end of the stanza. They finally connected, nearly sneaking one past Knapp just seconds later before Jake LaRusso (Colts Neck, N.J./New Jersey Titans) jammed the puck into the net with 18 seconds remaining in the period to send the Bulls to the locker room up 3-1.
“They’re big and physical (on the power play),” said LaRusso. “They jump three guys on a loose puck, so it’s hard to win battles on the boards. Once we got pucks that were along the boards, it was pretty open for us, and I just got lucky and tapped one in.”
Austin would pull ahead in the shot count with a 13-6 gap in the second period, but North Iowa stretched the lead to 4-1 with 5:03 left in the period when Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA) rattled in a shot just under the crossbar off of a pass from LaRusso along the right-wing boards.
The final goal of the night came in the moments following a North Iowa penalty, with Casey Roepke (Erin, Wis./Lincoln Stars) serving a cross-checking infraction late in the second period. With 3:30 left on the clock, Walter Zacher’s left-wing shot slid between the pads of Kyle Kozma (Vaughan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians), trimming the deficit to 4-2.
The Bruins got no closer in a third period highlighted by a brief scrape between LaRusso and John Larkin at neutral ice, that saw Larkin pick up a double-minor for roughing and an extra misconduct with just 13 seconds remaining.
Kozma made 25 saves for North Iowa, earning the win in his Bulls debut after splitting five wins this season between the Aberdeen Wings and Minnesota Magicians. Knapp took the loss, making 23 saves of his own against 27 North Iowa shots.
“It feels good. I’m on a new team, and it’s my first game in over a month,” said Kozma. “I had some injuries in January, but it feels good to get back in the game and back in the win column.”
Each team claimed success on the power play, with Austin going 1-for-5 on the man-advantage and North Iowa going 1-for-4. The goal for the Bulls snapped a stretch of 32 unsuccessful power play chances against the Bruins to start the season.
LaRusso had the notable night for the Bulls’ offense, racking up a goal and two assists, while Mexico closed the night with a goal and a helper of his own. Wallace had the only multi-goal game of the night for the Bruins, earning assists on both Austin tallies.
The win keeps North Iowa in a three-way tie for third place in the Central Division standings, alongside Aberdeen and Minot. The win also equalized the head-to-head series between the Bulls and Bruins at five wins apiece, with each team taking a bonus point with a shootout loss on home ice early in the season.
North Iowa hits the road to Aberdeen, South Dakota next weekend for a Friday-Saturday set against the Wings, their final visit to the Hub City this season barring a Robertson Cup playoff meeting. The opening puck drop both nights at the Odde Ice Center is slated for 7:15 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
The Bulls return to home ice on February 18 and 19 for a two-game visit from the Bismarck Bobcats – to purchase advance tickets to those games or any upcoming North Iowa home game, call the Bulls Ticket Line at 641-450-0914 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.
North Iowa 3 1 0 – 4
Austin 1 1 0 – 2
1st Period-1, Austin, Menghini 9 (Wallace, Richards), 2:51. 2, North Iowa, Morich 5 (Hartley, Mesic), 15:38. 3, North Iowa, Bulger 11 (Mexico, LaRusso), 15:46. 4, North Iowa, LaRusso 7 (Gajewski, Campion), 19:43 (PP). Penalties-Brassard Aus (roughing-minor), 12:31; Ryder Aus (holding-minor), 16:05; Brassard Aus (kneeing-minor), 19:02.
2nd Period-5, North Iowa, Mexico 5 (LaRusso), 14:57. 6, Austin, Zacher 6 (Larkin, Wallace), 16:30 (PP). Penalties-Morich Nio (elbowing-minor), 10:25; Roepke Nio (cross checking-minor), 15:46; Campion Nio (roughing-minor), 17:41; Richards Aus (roughing-minor), 17:41.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Campion Nio (high sticking-minor), 9:56; Mexico Nio (tripping-minor), 15:12; Knapp Aus (delay of game-minor), 17:28; Larkin Aus (roughing-double minor, unsportsmanlike conduct-10 minute misconduct), 19:47; Riddle Aus (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 20:00.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-6-10-27. Austin 6-13-8-27.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 5; Austin 1 / 4.
Goalies-North Iowa, Kozma 6-7-1-0 (27 shots-25 saves). Austin, Knapp 11-7-0-1 (27 shots-23 saves).
Referees-Tyler Hascall, Christopher Leary.
Linesmen-Dylan Sater, Tyler Willie.