If there were any concerns in North Iowa’s game after the Alexandria Blizzard stole game one in overtime on Friday night, the Bulls put them to bed 24 hours later.
Top-seeded North Iowa evened the best-of-three series on Saturday night at the Runestone Community Center with a 5-1 win over the fourth-seeded Blizzard. The Bulls controlled the pace from the jump with a goal from Garrett Freeman 1:43 into the contest. Six minutes later, Caleb Huffman made it 2-0.
“(North Iowa’s) season was on the line,” assistant coach Jon Crouse said. “They came out firing on all cylinders, and I thought we matched them pretty well for the most part. The bounces just didn’t go our way in the first period.”
Midway through the first period Carter Rieland fought against Carson Jones at center ice shortly before the Blizzard scored its only goal of the game. While it boosted morale in the first period, the fight could end up being costly as Rieland was ejected. Rieland and Jones could be suspended for game three as part of the game misconduct ruling. The NA3HL will make a ruling before game three on Sunday.
“He didn’t want to fight. He had to fight,” Crouse said. “The guy grabbed him and started throwing punches. He had no choice but to do it. It wasn’t a fighting situation, in my opinion. I’ve been in lots of fighting situations, and I know the etiquette. That wasn’t one of them. It worked out to our advantage, but I’m not going to be happy if one of our guys starts fighting up 2-0. It is what it is.”
Alexandria’s captain capitalized on the momentum swing late in the period with a power-play goal. Dallas Duckson buried a feed from Kaden Peterson on the man-advantage to split the deficit in half. Cole Jacobs was credited with a secondary assist.
Two years ago, the Blizzard upset top-seeded Granite City for its first playoff series win in franchise history. To do it again, they will rely on the guys who have done it before.
“The third-year guys upset a top seed two years ago,” Crouse said. “They know what it’s like to do it. Hopefully, tomorrow night they’re focused and understand the plays they have to make and where not to turn the puck over. It’s about being mentally composed.”
North Iowa responded quickly with its third goal of the game before burying two more early in the second period. Alexandria goaltender Atticus Kelly was replaced by Bailey Rosch, who stopped all 20 shots he faced.
One thing that hasn’t been a concern down the stretch for Alexandria is goaltending. Kelly was a mid-season acquisition and has taken over the starting role in the last month of the season. On Friday night, he made 35 saves in the Blizzard’s overtime win. Crouse is unsure who will get the nod in game three but has complete confidence in whoever starts.
“About a minute into the game last night, (Kelly) shut down a grade-A scoring chance,” Crouse said. “From there, you could tell the guys fed off of that. He made that big save and was into it. I fully expect him to be ready to go if we call on him tomorrow night; Bailey too. He did exactly what he was supposed to do.
The Blizzard got a leg up on North Iowa in game one with a 2-1 overtime victory. Former Bull Wesley Johnson scored late in the second with assists from Strong and Nikolai Rajala.
It looked as if Kelly would steal a shutout on the road, but Freeman had other plans. He tied the game for North Iowa with 3;40 left in regulation to force overtime. Alexandria’s Sean Kenny wasted no time sending Alexandria home winners with his unassisted winner 1:29 into the sudden death session.
“It was a slower game last night,” Crouse said. “We clogged up their chances and had some big goals.”
The Blizzard is making its second trip to Iowa in three days. However, Crouse isn’t concerned with the potential of fatigue.
“At this point, you hope fatigue is nothing,” Crouse said. “It’s a mental game at this point. You have to get over the mental hurdle of traveling and playing three games in three days. I expect them all to be ready to go.”
NORTH IOWA 3 2 0 - 5
ALEXANDRIA 1 0 0 - 1
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- North Iowa- Garrett Freeman (Max Savaloja, Sota Isagai) 1:43; North Iowa- Caleb Huffman (unassisted) 8:06; Alexandria- Dallas Duckson (Kaden peterson, Cole Jacobs) 14:37; North Iowa- Nick Mohs-Messerli (Lucas Jorgenson, Carter Newpower) 15:52: SECOND PERIOD- North Iowa- Savaloja (unassisted) 2:01; North Iowa- Newpower (Kyle Heffrom, Isogai) 4:11; PENALTIES- Alexandria- 41 minutes on 10 infractions; North Iowa- 35 minutes ion 7 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Atticus Kelly, L, 13 saves, 5 goals allowed; Bailey Rosch, 20 saves, 0 goals allowed; North Iowa- Carsen Stokes, W, 27 saves, 1 goal allowed