ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – With the season series on Alexandria’s home ice set to end on Saturday night, the North Iowa Bulls and Alexandria Blizzard found themselves in a rubber game of sorts. The Bulls had won two at the Runestone Community Center this season, including a 4-1 win on Friday marked by a resounding three-goal effort in the third period. The Blizzard had won two on home ice, the first time ever that they’ve done that against North Iowa in a single season.
Saturday’s fifth and final game at Alexandria this regular season more than lived up to the billing, with the Blizzard pocketing three goals of their own in the third period on the way to a 4-2 victory. The Bulls found their winning streak stopped at eight games, bookended by a loss in Alexandria on January 16, their first game back from Minnesota’s eight-week statewide COVID shutdown.
A holding call against Colin Tushie with 4:09 left in the first period gave the Bulls the opening they needed to take the early momentum swing. Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) finished a sprint down the left wing with a wrist shot to the back post, making it a 1-0 contest with just under three minutes left on the clock.
As has been the custom in Bulls-Blizzard games this season, North Iowa grabbed the early lead on the shots-on-goal counter, but goals were slow in coming for both teams. The Bulls snagged a 17-6 advantage on the shot count in the first period, but took only the one-goal lead to the locker room.
Tushie made himself a major part of the game despite the early infraction. With 9:01 left in the second period, the Prior Lake, Minnesota native pinged one in off the crossbar from just off the right-wing faceoff dot to tie the game at 1-1.
Caroms off of the iron would also factor heavily into the third period – at the final stanza’s halfway point, a North Iowa shot from the blue line banged off the crossbar, lightly rippling the net at the top of the goal as well. After an immediate no-goal signal, Tushie sprinted down the ice and found Caleb Strong across the slot to bank another one in off the crossbar and the roof of the net for a 2-1 lead.
Just 17 seconds later, though, Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.) zipped one past Joey Greilich from the left-wing faceoff dot, tying the game with 9:05 remaining.
The Blizzard called a timeout with 2:56 left, and the strategy session paid dividends – with 2:15 to go, Tushie found himself loose in the Bulls’ zone, sliding one in underneath Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) to take the lead for good. Alexandria would add one more on a glove-side tally from Nikolai Rajala with 1:54 remaining.
“I think there was a little pressure on everyone,” said Savaloja. “They wanted to get the win and everything, but we just need to stay calm and collected. I thought the squad played well, we just have to finish our opportunities like Alexandria did. They got their chances and they buried them.”
Greilich earned his third win of the season against North Iowa, making 38 saves to move to 6-8 on the season. Stokes made 26 saves, taking the loss in his North Iowa debut. Tushie finished with two goals and an assist, while Jered Sanborn picked up a pair of assists of his own for the Blizzard. Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) went without a point for the first time in eight games, ending the Bulls’ longest scoring streak of the year.
The Bulls drop to 19-5 with the loss, while Alexandria’s record climbs to 10-13-1. It is the final time this regular season that the Bulls make the trip north to Alexandria, but it is not the final time these teams will see each other – the Blizzard head to Mason City for a Saturday-Sunday set next weekend.
North Iowa closes its busiest week of the regular season with a Sunday evening tilt at home against the Willmar WarHawks. The opening puck drop at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena is scheduled for 7 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 0 1 – 2
Alexandria 0 1 3 – 4
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Smith 4 (Jorgenson, Huffman), 17:04 (PP). Penalties-McNeil Alx (slashing-minor), 10:22; Huffman Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 11:22; Tushie Alx (holding-minor), 15:51.
2nd Period-2, Alexandria, Tushie 7 (Lehmann, Sanborn), 10:59. Penalties-Collins Nio (tripping-minor), 6:28; Huffman Nio (offensive language-match), 12:34; Kenny Alx (interference-minor), 13:47; Savaloja Nio (tripping-minor), 19:03.
3rd Period-3, Alexandria, Strong 14 (Tushie, Sanborn), 10:38. 4, North Iowa, Savaloja 6 (Cichosz), 10:55. 5, Alexandria, Tushie 8 (Rieland, Duckson), 17:45. 6, Alexandria, Rajala 4 (Johnson, Kenny), 18:06. Penalties-Johnson Alx (hooking-minor), 2:16; Collins Nio (tripping-minor), 9:16; Revering Alx (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor (embellishment/diving)), 9:18.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 17-14-9-40. Alexandria 6-13-11-30.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 4; Alexandria 0 / 3.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes 0-1-0-0 (30 shots-26 saves). Alexandria, Greilich 6-8-0-0 (40 shots-38 saves).
Linesmen-Bryan Gorcoff, Calvin Stace Alvarado.