NEW ULM, Minn. – North Iowa’s place at the top of the Central Division was well in hand before the Bulls made their way to Minnesota to face the New Ulm Steel Saturday night. Don’t tell the Bulls there’s nothing to play for at this stage of the regular season, though – there are still teams to chase down and a potential Fraser Cup seed to improve at the end of the month.
After giving up the opening goal of the night, the Bulls took care of business for a 5-1 victory against the Steel, capping their first-ever sweep of New Ulm and pushing their total to 80 points in the Central Division standings. With the win, North Iowa finds itself just one game back of the Metro Jets in the overall NA3HL standings, though Texas and Binghamton will be tough to chase down as the regular season winds down Sunday.
Zach Heiser split a pair of defenders coming down the slot and backhanded the opening goal of the night past Colin Cain (Hummelstown, Pa./N.J. Junior Titans U18) at the 12:49 mark of the first period to give New Ulm the initial lead. Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) tied the game with exactly a minute to go in the first period, zapping one over the shoulder of Ryan Kenny to tie the game at 1-1 heading to the second period.
The teams were as even as could be in the second period, ripping off a dozen shots apiece. Only Dayton Honkanen’s (New Brighton, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) go-ahead 4-on-4 tally with 4:34 remaining was able to break the tie heading to the game’s final period.
Special teams became the name of the game in the third period – with Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in the box for a slashing call in the final seconds of the second, the Bulls started the final period down a man, but quickly killed off the penalty to get back to even strength.
New Ulm’s two penalties in the third period were costly – just one second after getting back to 5-on-5 after a slashing call on Kirk Coppock, Daniel Sandvig’s (Burnsville, Minn./Burnsville H.S.) shot from low in the left faceoff circle dribbled through Kenny and into the back of the net for a 3-1 lead.
Bayler Kraus picked up a hooking call with 8:09 to go, opening the door for the Bulls yet again. This time, Bernhardson’s throw from the top of the slot snuck its way through traffic in front of the net, tacking another goal onto the lead.
Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./Alexandria Blizzard) almost didn’t get his last goal of the night. With 46 seconds remaining and a three-goal hole, New Ulm coach Nick Campbell pulled Kenny from the Steel net, and Dahlseide was able to sneak one into the net from the right half-wall, just inside the New Ulm blue line.
The goal never made its way to the scoreboard, but found its way into the final box score. The puck crossed the goal line just ahead of the final buzzer, and hit the back of the net with 0:00 showing on the official game clock.
Cain racked up his 27th win of the season, extending his single-season franchise mark with 28 saves on 29 New Ulm shots. Kenny made 26 stops against the Bulls Saturday night, and was saddled with his first regulation loss since Feb. 17.
One game remains on North Iowa’s regular-season schedule, a playoff preview against first-round opponent Wausau. The Bulls and RiverWolves are scheduled for a 5 p.m. start time at the North Iowa Ice Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Sunday’s game is the Bulls’ “Spring Break Getaway” game, with student admission discounted to just $3. For advance tickets to Sunday’s game, or any future North Iowa Bulls home game, click here.