MASON CITY, Iowa – The North American Hockey League’s hottest first-period team got off to another impressive start on Friday night, as the North Iowa Bulls put the Austin Bruins in a 2-0 hole after the opening period. The Bruins quickly flipped the script in the second period, picking up four goals in less than five-and-a-half minutes, and Austin snapped a nine-game losing skid with a 5-2 win at the Mason City Arena in a pivotal Central Division matchup.
The Bulls opened the scoring just 6:14 into the contest, when Michael Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) forehand shot popped off the top of goaltender Ethan Robertson’s mitt and into the back of the net, giving the hosts a 1-0 advantage. North Iowa doubled the lead with just 4:22 remaining in the period, when Sean Vlasich (Upper Saddle River, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) drew the defense toward the point before finding Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) on the weak side – Hartley found Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis Blues AAA) on the doorstep, and Bulger banged in the point-blank chance for the 2-0 North Iowa lead.
It was the last time the Bulls would reach the scoreboard – the Bruins began their sprint toward the lead at 7:35 of the second period, when Anthony Menghini snapped a shot toward the net from the boards just five feet above the goal line. That shot sneaked over Kyle Kozma’s (Vaughan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians) shoulder and into the top corner of the cage to cut the lead to 2-1.
A disagreement on the ensuing faceoff led to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Mesic, and the resulting power play saw the Bruins tie the game on a blue-line wrister from Jack Malinski that tunneled through the traffic in front of the net with 10:59 left in the period. A hooking call against Braidan Simmons-Fischer put the Bulls on the power play, but Austin untied the game with 8:08 remaining and 29 seconds left on the North Iowa man-advantage – a clearing attempt found Carson Riddle uncontested in the North Iowa zone, and though his shot sailed wide of the open net, Nick Catalano put away the second chance and put the Bruins in front to stay.
“We need to stay more disciplined, especially when we have the lead,” said Bulger. “They scored all of their goals in [about] five minutes. We need to stay more disciplined, stay on our game, and don’t get down, and I think we win this game.”
The second-period run ended with Michal Jasenec’s goal, a forehand wrist shot to the top of the net, with 7:04 remaining in the contest. Kozma’s night would come to an end with that goal, as Hunter Garvey stepped in to take care of the rest.
Garvey posted a perfect performance with 16 saves, his third in relief this season, but the Bruins would earn one final marker with Walter Zacher jogging in a goal to the empty North Iowa net with 1:42 remaining.
Five weeks after scoring his first Austin win at the Mason City Arena, Robertson earned a comeback win on Friday night, making 24 saves on 26 North Iowa chances. The Bruins went 1-for-3 on the power play while earning a shorthanded marker and wiping away all three North Iowa power plays in the contest. Zacher had the game’s only multi-point performance, completing the famed “Gordie Howe hat trick” with the primary assist on Menghini’s goal and a rousing fight late in the second period.
Kozma closed out the night with 12 saves, taking the loss and dropping his record to 7-10-2 for the year. The Bulls dropped back to 21-22-1-4 with the loss, while the Bruins climbed to 24-21-2-3, three points back of second place in the Central Division standings.
The teams face off in their final regular-season meeting against each other on Saturday night, with Austin hosting the last of this season’s 12 matchups. The opening puck drop at the Riverside Arena is slated for 7:05 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
North Iowa plays eight of its final 10 games on home ice, returning to the Mason City Arena next Friday night against the Aberdeen Wings. To purchase advance tickets to that game or any upcoming North Iowa 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.
Austin 0 4 1 – 5
North Iowa 2 0 0 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Mesic 16 (Rapalje, Japchen), 6:14. 2, North Iowa, Bulger 14 (Hartley, Vlasich), 15:38. Penalties-Wallace Aus (interference-minor), 11:09; Trombley Aus (holding-minor), 17:51.
2nd Period-3, Austin, Menghini 13 (Zacher, Jean-Louis), 7:35. 4, Austin, Malinski 5 (Richards, Ryder), 9:01 (PP). 5, Austin, Catalano 11 (Riddle), 11:52 (SH). 6, Austin, Jasenec 9 (Wallace, Furuseth), 12:56. Penalties-Mesic Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 7:35; Simmons-Fischer Aus (hooking-minor), 10:21; Trombley Aus (roughing-minor), 14:13; Zacher Aus (fighting-major, fighting-10 misc), 14:13; Mexico Nio (roughing-minor), 14:13; Stacey Nio (fighting-major, fighting-10 misc), 14:13; Catalano Aus (roughing-minor), 19:01; Mesic Nio (roughing-minor), 19:01.
3rd Period-7, Austin, Zacher 9 (Salani, Muzzatti), 18:18 (EN). Penalties-Braccini Nio (slashing-minor), 5:00; Gajewski Nio (slashing-minor), 18:18; Braccini Nio (boarding-minor), 19:40.
Shots on Goal-Austin 7-17-9-33. North Iowa 8-11-7-26.
Power Play Opportunities-Austin 1 / 3; North Iowa 0 / 3.
Goalies-Austin, Robertson 5-4-1-1 (26 shots-24 saves). North Iowa, Kozma 7-10-2-0 (16 shots-12 saves); Garvey 14-15-1-4 (16 shots-16 saves).
Linesmen-Jacob Rozenberg, Landon Depew.