MASON CITY, Iowa – A widely-varied regular-season schedule for the North Iowa Bulls has allowed them to win games against teams from five of the other seven divisions in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League this season.
At least, that was the count heading into Friday’s game against the St. Louis Jr. Blues. The Midwest Division regular-season champions fell victim to a couple of three-goal outbursts, dropping a 6-2 contest to the Bulls and taking only their seventh loss of the season. North Iowa has now won games against teams from six different divisions, with five of those teams currently atop their respective standings.
Jack Hatton tallied the opening goal for the Jr. Blues at the 7:33 mark of the first period to put the Bulls behind early, but Dayton Honkanen (New Brighton, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was able to clean up a rebound in front of the St. Louis net to tie the game with 7:39 to play.
An elbowing penalty to Cameron Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was a turning point in the first period, but not for the visitors. Fagerlee left the game just 20 seconds after Honkanen’s game-tying tally, but Dan Sandvig (Burnsville, Minn./Burnsville H.S.) and Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) both pumped in goals during the five-minute penalty-kill, giving North Iowa a 3-1 lead.
The lead would last, but the two-goal margin was short-lived – Dante Jones found the back of the net with 1:41 remaining, pushing the lead back to 3-2 heading to the second period.
Most of the middle 20 minutes went by with no change in scoring, but a roughing minor for Ben Jones opened the door for the Bulls. Sandvig was only so happy to take advantage again, putting away a power-play goal at the 15-minute mark for a 4-2 lead.
There wasn’t much offense to speak of in the third period for the Central Division leaders, but they made the most of the chances they had. Bump buried another goal at the 8:31 mark of the final stanza, and Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) closed out the scoring by putting away his team-best 32nd goal of the year with three minutes remaining.
Captain Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) and Lucas McKinnon (Chapin, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) were the unsung heroes for the night, combining for a +7 rating. Bernhardson also marked an assist on the night, on Bump’s shorthanded goal in the first period.
In front of 831 customers, Colin Cain (Hummelstown, Pa./N.J. Junior Titans U18) won his 23rd game of the season, putting him within two victories of the Bulls’ franchise record with 36 stops on 38 Jr. Blues shots. Blake Bjella took the loss for St. Louis, allowing six goals on 29 North Iowa chances.
The special teams came up huge for the Bulls, with a 1-for-4 night on the power play, and a pair of shorthanded goals that put North Iowa back atop the league’s leaderboard in that category.
North Iowa returns to home ice again Saturday for a final regular-season meeting with the Jr. Blues. The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Saturday’s game is Billet Appreciation Night, along with a postgame skate and a jersey auction to benefit the Humane Society of North Iowa. For advance tickets to Saturday’s game or any future Bulls home game, click here.