The Morning Skate 12-2
FRIDAY, DEC. 2 – 7:30 P.M., NORTH IOWA ICE ARENA (MASON CITY, IOWA)
SATURDAY, DEC. 3, 7:10 P.M., NEW ULM CIVIC CENTER (NEW ULM, MINN.)
IN A NUTSHELL: A home-and-home between longtime rivals marks the end of the season’s first half.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 33-6-2 (including a 7-0 record in playoff games).
LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: After watching one of the longest winning streaks in team history come to an end against the Granite City Lumberjacks before the Thanksgiving holiday, the Bulls hope they’ve only begun another legendary run with a pair of wins at La Crosse. The Bulls didn’t exactly get off to a legendary start in Saturday’s home win and led just 2-0 heading into the game’s final 10 minutes – a Josh Arnold goal with 8:12 remaining, though, fueled a four-minute fire for the Bulls as they turned a two-goal game into a 6-0 rout. Lucas McKinnon picked up his second goal on home ice with 3:58 left to finish up North Iowa’s late rally. Sunday’s game in Wisconsin against the Freeze saw the visitors hold a virtual wire-to-wire lead after Marshall Tschida got on the board at 1:40 of the opening period of a 4-1 victory. Marshall Barnes got back in the scoring column with a pair of goals, including a power-play tally in the second period and an empty-netter with three seconds remaining.
THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: Friday’s game is “A Night of Giving” for the Bulls at the North Iowa Ice Arena, featuring a food drive and the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program – fans will also be invited to take part in the annual Teddy Bear Toss after the home team scores its first goal. For more info on “A Night of Giving” at the North Iowa Ice Arena, click here.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at HockeyTV.com. All home games and select road games, including this Saturday’s game at New Ulm, are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.
I CHRISTEN THEE…: The nickname remains the same but the home base has changed for North Iowa’s opponent this weekend. The Twin City Steel were re-christened the New Ulm Steel after a move out of White Bear Lake, Minn. during the offseason. The Steel’s new home is in Brown County and New Ulm, a town of roughly 13,000 people a half-hour west of Mankato. The two teams played each other last season on Feb. 6, in the first junior hockey game ever played in New Ulm.
FANCY SEEING YOU AGAIN: The last time the Bulls and Steel met up turned out to be one of the greatest games in Silver Cup tournament history, with the teams battling into overtime in last year’s semifinals. Kohei Sato out-raced a Steel line change and ripped home the winner for the Bulls at 2:51 of the overtime period. It was the first overtime game ever played between the two rivals in the postseason.
COULD YOU REPEAT THAT, PLEASE?: Until this week, Steven Mordini was the only Bulls player this season to earn the NA3HL’s Bauer Hockey Central Division Star of the Week award twice – not only has Josh Benson matched him, he’s won the honor in back-to-back weeks. The Stillwater, Minn. native hauled in the hardware again after shutting out La Crosse in Saturday night’s home win, stopping all 27 shots he faced, including 16 in the first period alone.
THE LAST FRONTIER: Benson’s stellar play this season certainly didn’t go unnoticed by Tier II teams in need of some help in the crease – the Fairbanks Ice Dogs issued a call-up to North Iowa’s star netminder this week after a 7-0-0 run and a shutout in his seven starts with the Bulls. He’s not the first North Iowa star to get a look from the defending Robertson Cup champs – forward Joe Burgmeier was tendered by the Ice Dogs two weeks after the end of the 2015 national tournament, but was cut from the Fairbanks roster just prior to the start of the 2015-16 NAHL campaign.
DROUGHT-BREAKERS: Marshall Barnes hasn’t once given up his hold on the team’s points lead, but North Iowa fans might be surprised to know just how long his goal-scoring drought lasted before his second-period power-play tally last Sunday. The Edina, Minn. native’s last goal came on Oct. 29, in the Bulls’ 11-2 pounding of Rochester. In fact, that game was also a multi-goal affair for Barnes – his last-minute empty-net goal secured his fifth multi-goal game of the year. His power-play tally also snapped a run of 16 straight Bulls power plays without a goal.
MORE PLUS THAN MINUS: Barnes’s 50 points on the year and the pupil-popping numbers from Long Beach’s Oskar Lindberg and Martins Vitolins have taken the spotlight away from what has been a fantastic year on the ice for Mike Lyons – the first-line defenseman has posted a +42 plus/minus rating for the year, which is tied for the third-highest mark in the league in that category and the best in the 3HL among defensemen. He hasn’t simply been on the ice at the right moments, though – his 22 points is sixth in the league among defensemen and his 20 assists is fifth.
THIS IS OUR HOUSE: Even the numbers reflect a pronounced advantage for the home team in this weekend’s series – New Ulm has won seven of 10 at home this year, but has gone just 3-6-0 away from home, while all three Bulls losses have come on the road. For the Steel, the advantage of having the power play on home ice has been striking – Jay Witta’s club has converted 22 percent of its power-play chances at home, which ranks in the middle of the league’s leaderboard. On the road, that drops to just 6.5 percent, ranking only above Lockport, and their 69.2-percent penalty-killing unit on the road ranks seventh from the bottom of the league. Finally, the Steel have only taken a lead into the third period in three games this season, but all of those games have been played on home ice in New Ulm.