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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. – It’s been eight weeks since North Iowa’s last official hockey game, and five weeks since their last competitive outing against another NA3HL team. The Bulls weren’t satisfied with being back on the ice, but one final rush up the ice proved to be the difference Saturday for an Alexandria Blizzard team eager to shake off a loss in its return to the ice.
Colin Tushie’s goal with 30.1 seconds remaining gave the Blizzard a 3-2 win, spoiling the Bulls’ much-anticipated return to the rink after an eight-week West Division layoff thanks to Minnesota COVID mandates. The Blizzard saw their own return to play spoiled on Friday night, dropping a 5-2 decision on the road against the Willmar WarHawks.
The Bulls threw their weight around early and put pucks on the net in bunches to open the night, posting eight of the game’s first 10 shots and notching a 12-7 shots advantage after the opening period.
However, the first goal of the night went to Wesley Johnson at the 4:20 mark of the second period, after Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was able to block an Andrew Revering chance from the right wing. Johnson scrambled for the rebound and shoved it past Daninger for the 1-0 lead.
The Bulls responded with back-to-back goals less than a minute apart, and quickly grabbed the lead near the game’s midway mark. After a rinkwide pass at the red line from Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.), Gavin Wendorf (Richfield, Minn./Dauphin Kings) walked into the Blizzard zone and let fly a shot from the point with 11:45 remaining in the second. Expecting it to knuckle toward the net, Alexandria goalie Joey Greilich saw the puck tick off his mitt and into the net for a 1-1 tie and Wendorf’s first goal as a Bull.
“It was just an area pass from [Savaloja],” said Wendorf. “I came down (into the offensive zone) and it was almost like a dump on the net. The goalie misplaced it, and it just bounced right in.”
Just 56 seconds later, Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) grabbed the puck off of a faceoff in the Blizzard zone and shoveled a backhand chance to the net from the middle of the slot, beating Greilich for a 2-1 lead with 10:49 left in the second period.
North Iowa was not able to carry the lead all the way to the third period, though – with Daninger on his belly trying to corral a loose puck on his right post, the puck squirted out front to Caleb Strong, who bounced one home to tie the game just 1:05 before the second intermission.
The teams battled for position throughout the third period, but all 150 fans in the Runestone Community Center had to wait until the last possible minute for the deciding goal. Austin McNeil’s shot toward the net missed wide, but found Cole Jacobs on the doorstep, who fed it out front to Colin Tushie for the game-winning one-timer. Daninger headed to the bench for the extra attacker in the final 30 seconds, but the Bulls were not able to notch an equalizer before the time expired.
“We’ve got to get our compete level up,” said Wendorf. “We lacked that a little tonight – one thing we need to work on is getting pucks to the net, crashing the net, getting bodies to the net and just scoring goals.”
Daninger made 28 saves in the loss, taking his first loss of the season. Greilich made 32 saves to move to 3-4 for the season and earn his second win of the year against North Iowa. The teams combined for five power-play chances, with the penalty-killing units posting a pair of perfect nights.
North Iowa drops to 11-4 with the loss, while the Blizzard pick up their first win of 2021 in moving to 6-6-1 for the season. Wins on Alexandria’s home rink have been hard-fought year in and year out, but this season marks only the second time the Blizzard have been able to pick up multiple victories on home ice against the Bulls in the same season.
The Blizzard and Bulls return to the Runestone Community Center ice on Sunday evening for another 7:10 p.m. puck drop, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
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 accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 0 2 0 – 2
Alexandria 0 2 1 – 3
1st Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Sylvester Alx (tripping-minor), 16:46.
2nd Period-1, Alexandria, Johnson 1 (Revering), 4:20. 2, North Iowa, Wendorf 1 (Savaloja, Cichosz), 8:15. 3, North Iowa, Heffron 4 (Uttech), 9:11. 4, Alexandria, Strong 9 (Rajala, Kenny), 18:55. Penalties-Kenny Alx (cross checking-minor), 10:41.
3rd Period-5, Alexandria, Tushie 3 (Jacobs, McNeil), 19:30. Penalties-Jones Nio (hooking-minor), 3:06; Sylvester Alx (holding-minor), 7:16; Cichosz Nio (hooking-minor), 14:46.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 12-13-9-34. Alexandria 7-12-12-31.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 0 / 3; Alexandria 0 / 2.
Goalies-North Iowa, Daninger 3-1-0-0 (31 shots-28 saves). Alexandria, Greilich 3-4-0-0 (34 shots-32 saves).
Linesmen-Colton Capelle, Nicholas Seppala.