WAUSAU, Wis. – Great things came in twos in North Iowa’s game against the Wausau RiverWolves Saturday night in the NA3HL Fraser Cup Central Division Semifinals. In Game 2 of the best-of-three series, Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) and Matt Irwin each scored a pair of goals and the Bulls departed the Marathon Park Arena with an 8-2 victory and a series sweep against the RiverWolves.
Just like in their Friday night contest in Mason City, the Bulls got plenty of shots at the net early, but were a bit slower in getting on the scoreboard. North Iowa got 17 shots on net in the first period, but was only able to put one goal away, a tally from Cameron Fagerlee (St. Anthony, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) with 53 seconds remaining before the intermission.
North Iowa was hungry for more against the Wolves in the second period, with Studioso burying back-to-back goals at the 5:46 and 14:56 marks. The first one came on a shot from low in the right faceoff circle, while the second one coming on a fadeaway shot from the left of the Wausau net.
With a 3-0 lead on the scoreboard, the final minute of the period brought plenty of activity for both teams. Fagerlee’s toss from just inside the blue line was blocked in front of the net, but Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was able to put away the rebound for a 4-0 advantage with exactly a minute remaining. A 2-on-1 break the other way saw Irwin ripple the net behind Tyler Hawk (Colorado Springs, Colo./Pittsburgh Vengeance) with just eight seconds left in the period, though, cutting the margin to 4-1.
Right out of the gate, the visitors struck again – after a collision at center-ice, most of the players surrounding Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./Oshkosh H.S.) had slowed down, possibly anticipating a penalty. Verstegen, though, took the loose puck directly to the Wausau goal and slid one in underneath Henry Baribeau at 2:07 to extend the lead to 5-1.
A 37-second gap separated North Iowa’s next two goals – a point shot from Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) caught a Wausau defender low in the slot and pinballed in past Baribeau for a 6-1 lead at 9:11 of the period. At 9:48, Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) fired one in from the left circle, making it a 7-1 gap.
Special teams provided the final spark for both teams – after a skirmish in front of the net with seven minutes to go, Wausau found itself on a 4-on-3 power play, and right off of a draw in the Bulls end, Irwin ripped another one past Hawk for the RiverWolves’ final goal with 6:22 remaining.
The 4-on-3 was the good news for Wausau – the bad news for the RiverWolves was Janne Rukamp’s five-minute major for head contact .As soon as Jarod Blackowiak’s (Eden Prairie, Minn./Austin Bruins) penalty time for roughing ran out, North Iowa got its own three-minute power play. Enter Jett Larson (Rancho Mirage, Calif./Shattuck-St. Mary’s U18), who finished the scoring with a goal from the right circle with 2:45 remaining.
One night after sending 59 shots at the Wausau net, the Bulls peppered the net again on the RiverWolves’ home rink, with 73 shots in Saturday’s contest. 29 of those came in the final 20 minutes, while Wausau was able to put up 24 chances against Hawk in the loss.
The Bulls have won nine in a row heading into the Central Division finals, and their run of 29 unanswered goals was finally snapped with Irwin’s second-period marker. North Iowa returns to home ice on Friday night to begin the division finals against the La Crosse Freeze, with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop at the North Iowa Ice Arena. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr.
North Iowa will also wear special jerseys to celebrate their championship history in what could be their final home game of 2017-18, with a postgame jersey auction and a Skate with the Bulls following the contest. For advance tickets to Friday night’s game, click here.