Weekend Preview: Peoria Mustangs & La Crosse Freeze

The Morning Skate 3-10




La CROSSE FREEZE (23-19-2, 48 pts) (ROSTERSTATS)


IN A NUTSHELL: The final weekend of the regular season continues a six-game homestand for the five-time defending division champion Bulls.

ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads Peoria, 5-3-0; North Iowa leads La Crosse 14-1-0 (last meeting ended a 14-game winning streak in the series).


LAST WEEKEND’S RECAP: North Iowa hosted an old rival and a fellow division champ, and ended the weekend with a split in the four-game season series. The St. Louis Jr. Blues dropped a 5-2 decision to the Bulls on Friday night, behind a pair of special-teams goals. The power-play goal for North Iowa came early, and was the first of the year for Shane Bernhardson with 5:46 left in the opening period. The Bulls held a pair of one-goal leads in the opening 40 minutes, but Sean Mallonee‘s goal with four seconds left in the second period held up as the game-winner. On Saturday, though, the Jr. Blues led almost from the start, thanks to Sam Maddox’s goal just 47 seconds into the contest. After building a 3-0 lead, a pair of power-play goals from Nick Klishko and Braxton Collins dropped the lead to one going to the third. Daniil Ovchinnikov notched his third goal of the weekend, and second of the game, at 4:18 of the third to put the St. Louis lead back at two for good. Drew Scites took both decisions on the weekend, with the Bulls getting out-shot by their visitors in Saturday.

THIS WEEK’S PROMOTIONS: This weekend is the Bulls’ “Sci-Fi Weekend,” featuring Star Wars-themed jerseys. These special sweaters will be auctioned off following Saturday’s game to benefit the North Iowa Youth Center. Sunday’s game is a “Tribute to the Hanson Brothers,” featuring limited edition t-shirts. 100 pairs of Hanson Brothers glasses will also be tossed out during the evening. For information on upcoming Bulls promotions, click here.

COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at HockeyTV.com. All home games and select road games are also audio-streamed at no charge through Mixlr – click the “Listen Live” link at NorthIowaBulls.com, or click here.



JUST ANOTHER MANIC MONDAY: North Iowa hosted a rare Monday afternoon contest this past week against the ACHA Division III squad from Iowa State University. The national qualifiers bettered their hosts by a 5-3 score, despite the Bulls taking a 3-1 lead to the first intermission. Mitch Dolter, Jason Miner and Tom Reilly each tallied goals in the opening 20 minutes. The game helps ISU fill a three-week gap between the end of the MACHA tournament and next week’s ACHA national tournament.

WE CALL HIM BERNIE: Shane Bernhardson is a North Iowa veteran, but goals have been a rarity for the second-year Bulls blueliner. Bernhardson notched his only goal last season in a 14-0 win over the Chicago Bulldogs on the final weekend of the regular season, but he would go 43 games in a row without one before his power-play blast last Friday. Those two goals are the only ones in an 81-game junior career, after scoring five times in 61 games during his prep career at Eastview High School in Minnesota.

RACKING UP THE ROOKIE HONORS: This was a big week for North Iowa alumni playing NCAA hockey in the Minnesota Conference, with three former Bulls racking up All-Rookie honors and the older brother of a current Bull landing an honorable-mention nomination. St. Thomas freshmen Johnny Panvica and Brett Gravelle and Concordia-Moorhead freshman Quinn Fuchs were named to the MIAC’s All-Rookie team, giving North Iowa almost half of the spots on the all-newcomer squad. Gravelle and Fuchs played on last year’s Silver Cup national championship team, while Panvica played for the Minnesota Magicians last year after spending 2014-15 in a Bulls sweater. St. John’s forward Huba Sekesi, the brother of Bulls forward Horka Sekesi, was the Johnnies’ selection on this year’s honorable mention all-conference list.

LAST TIME OUT: The last time North Iowa faced these two teams, the outcomes were memorable, but for mixed reasons. The Bulls’ matchup against the Freeze on Jan. 7 was Drew Scites’s NA3HL debut – while he made 33 saves, he got no help from the offense in the team’s 2-0 loss. That defeat is the only time in the team’s 344 games all-time that they’ve been shut out in regulation. North Iowa split their weekend set with Peoria in mid-September, with their 7-3 loss on Sep. 10 ranking as the team’s most lopsided loss since an 8-3 loss to Granite City in October of 2012. The following day, the Bulls won 4-3 on an overtime penalty shot from Connor Clemons to split the series.

WHO’S ON THE POWER PLAY HERE?: The Peoria penalty-killing unit is one of the league’s most potent, in more ways than one – while the overall rate of return on the penalty-kill (83 percent) barely ranks in the NA3HL’s upper third, it’s just five percentage points from the top mark in the league. Their 87.8-percent success rate on the road is in the league’s top three, and the Mustangs’ 14 shorthanded goals for the season is tied for fourth. La Crosse is also one of the top penalty-killing teams in the league (home: 8th; road: 6th; overall: 7th).

BIG D: The Bulls and Mustangs are two of the most successful offensive teams in the league, but they’ll have to earn everything they get this weekend – Peoria’s 4.5 goals per game is in the top quarter in the league (and North Iowa’s 5.8 is fourth), but each team’s defense is in the top seven in terms of shots allowed.

BORN TO RUN: The Freeze have climbed back above .500 thanks to some impressive individual streaks – Lukas Motloch comes into the weekend with the longest active goal-scoring streak (seven games) in the league, and teammate Donny Schultz’s five-game streak is the second-longest. Former Bull Kadin Machusak’s assist streak also deserves some recognition – that seven-game run is the second-longest active assist streak in the league. La Crosse has won seven in a row and eight of their last 10 games heading into the season’s final weekend.

SOCIAL MEDIA: Follow the North Iowa Bulls all season long through the team’s official FacebookTwitterYouTube and Instagram pages.