MASON CITY, Iowa – The North Iowa Bulls have set a high standard for their Teddy Bear Toss outings.
Only two occasions have seen the Bulls faithful hang onto their furry and feathered friends past the first intermission – the first of those came on the very first Teddy Bear Toss night in 2012. The second one was Friday night at the Mason City Arena, but the wait was worth it as the stuffed toys came bearing down on the players at 4:34 of the second period.
The final score didn’t quite bear out how North Iowa had hoped, though, with the St. Cloud Norsemen earning a 4-2 victory to snap a four-game losing skid and climb back above .500 for the season. The loss dropped the Bulls back to 13-7-0-2 for the year, with the road team taking the win in each of the first two meetings between the teams.
The pace was firmly in St. Cloud’s hands in the opening 20 minutes, with the Norsemen firing off the first seven shots of the game and taking a 13-2 shots-on-goal advantage back to the locker room.
On their seventh shot of the game, the Bulls delivered, and so did their fans. With Jack Whitmore serving a too-many-men penalty at the 4:10 mark of the period, the Bulls needed just 24 seconds to strike – Michael Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) goal on a wrist shot out front hit the net to Tomas Bolo’s glove side and put North Iowa in front first, bringing several large bags’ worth of bears onto the ice in the process.
Dylan Gajewski (Woodhaven, Mich./Austin Bruins) hit his mark in his Bulls debut just 84 seconds later, firing a wrist shot from the left half-wall that beat Bolo for a 2-0 North Iowa lead.
“It feels much better coming into this rink knowing there are going to be a thousand-plus fans cheering for you this time, not against you,” said Gajewski. “I found out on Tuesday that I was coming here, got here on Wednesday morning, practiced and moved into my billet, practiced Thursday, pregame (skate) today and I played today. It’s been a crazy couple of days for me.”
That was the last time the Bulls would reach the scoreboard – Blake Mesenburg’s second-chance wraparound tally less than two minutes later trimmed the lead in half. Just 40 seconds later, Mesenburg closed out his shift with another goal, banging home a setup pass from Blake Perbix on the doorstep and finishing an 11-second power play for the Norsemen following a cross-checking call against Mesic.
With the game squared at 2-2, St. Cloud took the lead for good with 3:12 remaining in the period, as Nik Hong pushed in the puck through a collision in front of the net. North Iowa set up to begin a pivotal power play with 5:30 remaining after a slashing call against St. Cloud’s Broten Sabo, but Nick Young’s clearing attempt down the right-wing glass set up a 2-on-1. Hong’s one-timer from Logan Kittleson hit the back of the net to make it a 4-2 game and round out the scoring for the night.
“They’re an older team, and they know how to play in this league,” said Gajewski. “We got out-worked in the first (period), and I think we brought that pace back in the second. It wasn’t enough tonight.”
The Norsemen won the shots-on-goal battle by a 33-23 count, and Mesenburg and Hong headlined the scoring with a couple of goals apiece. The Bulls enjoyed a few milestones in the game – not only did Gajewski score in his first game as a Bull, Andrew Stacey’s (Toledo, Ohio/Tri-State Spartans 18U) assist on that tally was his first point in a North Iowa uniform. Casey Roepke (Erin, Wis./Lincoln Stars) earned his first point as a Bull as well, notching the secondary assist on Mesic’s marker moments before.
Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) made 29 saves, taking his first loss for the Bulls in the North American Hockey League. Bolo earned his sixth win of the season with 21 saves. Each team earned its lone power play goal quickly, as the Bulls went 1-for-4 on the man-advantage and St. Cloud finished 1-for-3.
The loss was the first for the Bulls after earning nine straight victories in their annual Teddy Bear Toss tilt. The teams get together again Saturday night at the Municipal Athletic Complex in St. Cloud, with the opening puck drop set for 7 p.m. Live streaming coverage of Saturday’s game is available on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
North Iowa returns home to wind down the 2021 home schedule next weekend with Friday and Saturday bouts against the Springfield Jr. Blues as the team celebrates its first jersey auction weekend of the season, and its annual Naughty and Nice Weekend. To purchase advance tickets to those games, 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.
St. Cloud 0 3 1 – 4
North Iowa 0 2 0 – 2
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Peterson Stn (high sticking-minor), 2:50.
2nd Period-1, North Iowa, Mesic 7 (Scott, Roepke), 4:34 (PP). 2, North Iowa, Gajewski 4 (Vlasich, Stacey), 5:58. 3, St. Cloud, Mesenburg 3 7:56. 4, St. Cloud, Mesenburg 4 (Perbix, Murr), 8:36 (PP). 5, St. Cloud, Hong 4 (Lajoie, Sabo), 16:48. Penalties-served by Perbix Stn (too many men-minor), 4:12; Mesic Nio (cross checking-minor), 8:25.
3rd Period-6, St. Cloud, Hong 5 (Kittleson, Young), 14:39 (SH). Penalties-Peterson Stn (tripping-minor), 9:27; Sabo Stn (slashing-minor), 14:30; Scott Nio (holding-minor), 17:38; Mesic Nio (roughing-minor), 18:26.
Shots on Goal-St. Cloud 13-11-9-33. North Iowa 2-15-6-23.
Power Play Opportunities-St. Cloud 1 / 3; North Iowa 1 / 4.
Goalies-St. Cloud, Bolo 6-3-0-0 (23 shots-21 saves). North Iowa, Stokes 2-1-0-0 (33 shots-29 saves).
Referees-Cameron Giancarlo, Jake Jackson.
Linesmen-Devin Kasperek, Cameron Johnson.