MASON CITY — When it comes to NA3HL hockey rivalries, it’s a good bet there’s none bigger than the one North Iowa and Granite City have developed over the years.
From playing in the same division for four years to meeting in the postseason seemingly every year, this rivalry is no joke. This weekend, the rivalry will be renewed as the Bulls host the Lumberjacks on Friday and Saturday night inside the North Iowa Ice Arena.
“I think when you look at the historical winners of the Silver Cup, it’s Granite City or North Iowa,” North Iowa coach Todd Sanden said. “With that type of end-of-the-season meetings going on, it certainly leads to a bigger rivalry.”
The rivalry started when the Bulls came into the league in 2011 and has only grown since.
Granite City knocked North Iowa out that year in the West Division playoffs, and went on to start an incredible string of postseasons in which the teams have dominated.
Since the 2011-12 season, North Iowa and Granite City have won the Silver Cup (now the Fraser Cup) every year. The Bulls have three to their name while the Lumberjacks have three as well with the most recent coming this past April.
It’s the players back from the team which have Sanden’s attention.
“They have plenty of veteran and returning players this year,” the coach said. “I think we have them aged out to be the second or third oldest team in the league, and you start by looking at the kids who have won a championship.”
Granite City enters the weekend with a 9-5 record playing in the always-tough West Division. The Bulls on the other hand have yet to drop a game in regulation as they come in at 12-0-1-1 and on a six-game winning streak.
Ryan Pearson and Owen Sikich are tied for the team lead for the Jacks with seven goals apiece while Braden Altena has dished out 14 assists. In goal, Granite City has split time between two guys. Ridge Gerads has a goal-against average of 1.60 while David Mulligan is at 2.17.
With a packed house expected, the Bulls know how important getting out and setting the tone early will be.
“I think the first 10 minutes of the first game is very important, and then keeping the pace,” Sanden said. “Pushing the pace and then setting a tone and maintaining it I think is the biggest factor. And then execution.”