MASON CITY, Iowa – North Iowa's special teams made an impact early in Saturday night's home game against the Wisconsin Whalers, and their special teams appeared time and again in an 8-0 win that moved the Bulls to 11-0-1 for the season. Tommi Ahlgren (Tampere, Finland/North Iowa Bulls) pitched the fourth shutout in his last five appearances, stopping all 17 Whaler shots that came his way.
Russell Barone went to the penalty box less than a minute into the game on a boarding minor, and the special teams went right to work thanks to Brett Gravelle's (Forest Lake, MN/North Iowa Bulls) mid-slot wrister at the 1:05 mark of the first period, just 17 seconds into the Bulls' first power play of the night. Two more goals followed, including another on special teams – at the 6:50 mark, a left-wing wrist shot from above the faceoff circle from Riley Meyer (Carver, MN/Chicago Fury U18 AAA) beat Wisconsin netminder Max McConnell, and Kohei Sato's (Nishitokio, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) shorthanded tap-in at 14:42 on David Min's (Redmond, WA/Banff Hockey Academy) area pass in front of the net helped North Iowa beat a 2-on-3 and build a three-goal lead at the break.
Adam Orn (Ramsey, MN/North Iowa Bulls) kept the party rolling for the home team less than four minutes into the second stanza with a wrister from the left faceoff circle, and Tommy Stang's (Mendota Heights, MN/St. Thomas Academy) tip-in on McConnell's doorstep made it a 5-0 game with nine minutes left in the period. Sato got right back on the board just 40 seconds later after a pass from Mitch Parsons (Grandville, MI/Grandville HS) at the wing helped split the defense, and give the second-year Bulls forward a wide-open shot to rip over McConnell's right shoulder. Gravelle's second powerplay goal of the night came with under four minutes to go before the intermission, on a tape-to-tape feed from Austin Jackson (Waterloo, IA/Minnesota Magicians), allowing Gravelle to one-time his team to a 7-0 lead.
The third period wound up being a Scandinavian challenge in net, after Swedish native Roni Sener came on in relief of McConnell for the third. Sener held his own, stopping six of North Iowa's seven shots in the final 20 minutes. Only Jeff Solow's (Naples, FL/Kenai River Brown Bears) first North Iowa goal with 2:02 to go kept Sener's third-period effort from finishing on a flawless note. The win was North Iowa's 10th in a row at home including last year's West Division playoffs, ahead of a weekend series against former West Division rival Alexandria next weekend.
"It doesn't get any easier next weekend," said Bulls head coach Todd Sanden. "We played them up there a couple of weeks ago in a couple of close contests, and we'll have to have a good week of preparation and hopefully continue this roll that we're on."
Both Friday and Saturday night's games next weekend are set for 7:30 p.m. starts at the North Iowa Ice Arena. Live coverage of both games is available on FastHockey.com, and Saturday night's game will feature a free audio webcast on NorthIowaBulls.com.