MASON CITY, Iowa – A 28-game home winning streak against NA3HL competition came to an end for the North Iowa Bulls Friday night, with a 5-4 shootout loss against the Twin City Steel. The game was a topsy-turvy affair, with a pair of lead changes and four ties, and was played in front of an NA3HL-record crowd of 1,657 fans. Twin City got the first lead of the game at the 14:35 mark as a high shot whistled high off the glass over Bulls goaltender Tommi Ahlgren's (Tampere, Finland) shoulder, settling right in front for the Steel's Jay Paul to put away. The lead would last all of 20 seconds, as a delayed penalty call allowed the Bulls a brief 6-on-5, giving Dylan Zins (Prior Lake, MN) just enough time to put away a tough-angle shot to the left of Twin City netminder Robbie Goor, wiping out the penalty and tying the game at a goal apiece. The Steel eked back into the lead with five seconds to go on a power play goal by Alex Egle, who threw the puck in front from the right hash marks, slipping it past Ahlgren to take a 2-1 lead into the locker room.
The next 20 minutes looked a lot like the previous 20 minutes, with Joe Kleven (Prior Lake, MN) rolling in a power play slap shot from the left point to tie the game again at the 8:15 mark. Kohei Sato (Tokyo, Japan) gave the Bulls their only lead of the game on a goal at 10:34 of the period, on a spinning rebound opportunity on the edge of the slot.
"He's probably the fastest player in the NA3HL, if not all of junior hockey," says head coach Todd Sanden. "The kid just flies out there, and that's what we look for him to do, is just get pucks and beat their d-line, and he did that a couple of times and created some opportunities for us that way. Kohei is a great addition to the lineup, just bringing more speed and depth to our lineup."
North Iowa's first and only lead held up for just over a minute, until a 2-on-1 break and nifty passing between James Hale and Jay Paul gave the Steel a tying goal at 14:35 and Paul his second goal of the contest.
Sweden native Mathias Ahman got the visitors back into the lead just under halfway through the third period with a wrister from the high slot that beat his fellow Scandinavian over the shoulder pads. After a hooking penalty to Twin City's Lance Carney and a rebound goal that was waved off by referee Matthew Larson, Kleven got back on the board at 10:44 of the third with a power play tally at the right point on a one-time slap shot.
Five minutes of extra time and a 3-1 shots-on-goal advantage for the Bulls would prove fruitless, as Alex Egle's low wrist shot deep in the slot proved to be the only marker in the shootout and sending the Steel home with an upset victory. It was the first home loss for North Iowa since December 28, 2013, also against the Steel.
"You look at any of these divisional matchups and they're all strong teams," says Sanden. "When you come in and play in front of a crowd like that, who's not going to be excited to come in and play? We had a great week of practice, and I was super excited about our effort in practice and in the game tonight. We were pretty good, the power play was 2-for-4, and these teams are all pretty good. You get two teams that go up and down the rink like we did, and we just fell on the short end of it."
The attendance mark breaks the previous franchise and league attendance record of 1,637, set in last season's home opener. North Iowa now heads on the road for a five-game road swing through the 3HL Western Division, starting with the back end of their weekend home-and-home with the Steel tomorrow night. The next home games for the Bulls are Friday, January 23 and Saturday, January 24 against the Twin City Steel. Faceoff times both nights at the North Iowa Ice Arena are set for 7:30 p.m.