MASON CITY, Iowa – The Aberdeen Wings gutted out a shootout victory Friday night against the North Iowa Bulls – their sixth shootout victory of the season – and came into Saturday’s game with hopes of getting a faster start on their six-hour return to the Hub City.
They succeeded, but not by a lot. Saturday’s final matchup of the season between the Wings and Bulls made it to overtime, but Will Gilson’s shot from the right half at 2:43 of the extra session ended Aberdeen’s weekend on a high note, with the Wings carrying home a 4-3 victory and four points in a tight North American Hockey League Central Division race.
North Iowa got out to one of its hottest starts of the season, opening the game with a 1-0 lead after Aberdeen goaltender Anton Castro got caught out of his net trying to gain control of a loose puck – Jake LaRusso (Colts Neck, N.J./New Jersey Titans) swept the puck wide and found Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA) for a sharp-angle goal to the back post just 1:35 into the contest.
The Bulls got a second goal just 39 seconds later, Tyler Braccini (Buffalo, Minn./Minnesota Magicians) picked Gilson’s pocket at the red line and drove the puck into the Aberdeen zone before finding Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) out front for a one-timer and a 2-0 North Iowa advantage.
The two-goal lead would be short-lived – Gilson took a handoff pass from Mason Kelly at the right edge of the slot and snapped a chance past Kyle Kozma (Vaughan, Ontario/Minnesota Magicians) to trim the deficit to one just 4:34 into the game. The teams played to a stalemate the rest of the way in the first period, with North Iowa scoring on two of its first three chances on the night but none of the remaining 14 before the intermission.
An early power play in the second period would once again set the Wings up to tie the contest – with Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U) serving a cross-checking minor, Ronan Walsh sent a wrist shot to the top of the North Iowa net to tie the game at 2-2 at the 1:26 mark of the period.
Aberdeen took its only lead of regulation at 8:59 of the second, with Cade Neilson picking the puck off the left-wing wall and slinging it across to Jacob Bosse, whose wrist shot went high into the net to put the Wings up by a 3-2 count.
Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) took it upon himself to wipe out that one-goal margin with 5:24 remaining, dragging the puck to Castro’s right after a poked pass in front from Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls), and depositing it into the net just inside the post.
The third period proved to be another deadlock, with both teams coming up empty on a combined 15 shots in the final 20 minutes of regulation. The third Aberdeen shot of the extra period was the final scoring chance of the night, with Gilson fading to the top of the right-wing circle before ending the night with one final wrist shot.
Gilson closed out the weekend with an impressive scoring line, posting an assist Friday before notching two goals and an assist on Saturday. Neilson added a pair of assists to his haul, while Rapalje earned a third goal on the weekend with his early marker. The Wings would go 1-for-4 on the power play thanks to Walsh’s second-period goal, while North Iowa finished the night 0-for-2.
Kozma took the overtime loss, falling to 7-10-3 on the year with 27 saves on 31 Aberdeen shots. Castro made 36 of 39 saves for the Wings, moving to 6-4-1 on the year. The game was the sixth between North Iowa and Aberdeen to go to overtime or a shootout this season, extending the Bulls’ single-season record against a single opponent.
“We played pretty well, we just need to finish our chances,” said Rapalje. “I think they threw a puck (on the power play) that hit a couple of people and went in. Right now we’re in a bit of a rut, and we need to figure things out.”
The Bulls remain seven points out of the final Central Division playoff spot with eight regular-season games remaining, six of which will be played in Mason City. The opening puck drop Friday night at the Mason City Arena against the Minot Minotauros is slated for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV Presented by Dakota Fix Shelter Insurance and Mixlr.
North Iowa celebrates its last jersey auction weekend of the season against the Minotauros, with proceeds from Saturday’s postgame auction benefiting Mason City Parks and Recreation. To purchase advance tickets to those games, or any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Aberdeen 1 2 0 1 – 4
North Iowa 2 1 0 0 – 3
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Mexico 6 (LaRusso, Bulger), 1:38. 2, North Iowa, Rapalje 24 (Braccini), 2:14. 3, Aberdeen, Gilson 9 (Kelly, Campbell), 4:36. Penalties-Schmuck Abd (holding-minor), 7:38; Dombrowsky Nio (tripping-minor), 17:20.
2nd Period-4, Aberdeen, Walsh 21 (Neilson, Gilson), 1:28 (PP). 5, Aberdeen, Bosse 11 (Neilson, O’Connell), 9:03. 6, North Iowa, Hartley 18 (Scott, Mesic), 14:36. Penalties-Mesic Nio (cross checking-minor), 0:43; Yee Abd (roughing-minor), 5:27; Potter Nio (roughing-minor), 5:27; Japchen Nio (checking from behind-minor), 15:33; Gustafsson Abd (slashing-minor), 19:54.
3rd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Hartley Nio (slashing-minor), 8:50.
OT Period-7, Aberdeen, Gilson 10 (Gaffney, MacKay), 2:44. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Aberdeen 13-9-6-3-31. North Iowa 17-12-9-1-39.
Power Play Opportunities-Aberdeen 1 / 4; North Iowa 0 / 2.
Goalies-Aberdeen, Castro 6-4-1-0 (39 shots-36 saves). North Iowa, Kozma 7-10-3-0 (31 shots-27 saves).
Linesmen-Andrew Bartholomay, Jeremy Briscoe.