MASON CITY, Iowa – As the Central Division’s number-one playoff seed, it’s not likely that the North Iowa Bulls will play in front of a Saturday night home crowd again this season. The reigning division champs gave their fans a nice Saturday send-off against the La Crosse Freeze, earning a 4-2 victory for their 37th win of the year.
On Dr. Seuss Night at “The Barn,” though, the writing never was fully on the wall until the final horn. The first period was a fast-paced, action-packed affair with Brendan Studioso (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) sneaking in a goal at the 8:37 mark, just as the net separated from its moorings. After a brief discussion, the Bulls kept the goal and the lead.
That lead lasted all of 68 seconds, thanks to an equalizer at 9:45 of the period from Brady Lindauer, his second goal against the Bulls in as many nights.
In the final 42 seconds of the opening period, the Bulls were able to flip the script and take command, starting with Mitch Dolter‘s (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) quick pick-up of the loose change in front of the net. The lead doubled with just eight seconds left on the clock, thanks to a goal from Dayton Honkanen (New Brighton, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to make it 3-1.
The offenses went into a deep rut in the second period, combining for only 10 shots, none of which ended up in the back of the net. The Freeze made a nice push in the third period, though, racking up 15 shots to finish the night with a 31-27 shot count in their favor.
They’d have to start that offensive effort a couple of minutes late, though – a tripping call on Laudon Poellinger just five ticks into the third period put the faceoff in the Freeze zone, right in front of goaltender Will Graves.
North Iowa took advantage quickly – right off of the restart, quick passes from John Studioso (Edmonds, Wash./Everett Jr. Silvertips) and Jake Joyaux (Bloomingdale, Ill./North Iowa Bulls) set up Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to put away a power-play tally at the 11-second mark of the period.
Down 4-1, the Freeze were slow to get going in the third, but were able to knock one in thanks to Thomas Magnavite’s 25th goal of the year with 6:17 remaining. Neither team was able to alter the score in the remaining time, and after seeing its 12-game winning streak snapped in Friday’s loss, La Crosse departed town Saturday night with a brief losing streak in hand.
Tyler Hawk (Colorado Springs, Colo.) made 29 saves on 31 La Crosse shots to earn his first victory with the North Iowa Bulls. Graves took the loss, making just 23 saves on 27 chances. Hawk had previously played just one game for North Iowa after joining the team the week before the trade deadline, dropping a decision at Granite City on February 10.
The Bulls make their final trip of the season to New Ulm next Saturday night, looking for their first-ever season sweep of the Steel, before returning home Sunday evening for a playoff preview against the Wausau RiverWolves. The opening faceoff against the Steel is slated for 7:10 p.m., with Sunday’s game scheduled for a 5 p.m. puck drop.