MASON CITY — Jake Joyaux picked a good time to record his first goal with North Iowa.
Joyaux, who has been with the Bulls all season and had not recorded a goal prior to Friday night’s NA3HL playoff game vs. La Crosse, wound up with what would be the game-winner as the Bulls scored a 5-3 victory to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
“It took him a little bit to get going but he has been one of our better defensemen here down the stretch and certainly in the early part of the playoffs,” North Iowa coach Todd Sanden said.
Friday night’s game had that playoff feel to it throughout, and that was because La Crosse made sure it wasn’t going to be another team the Bulls would steamroll.
After a goal by Connor Clemmons on a nice feed from Tyler Bump in front of the net to give the Bulls a 1-0 lead early in the game, the Freeze were the aggressors.
They tied the game at the 10:04 mark on a power-play goal by Lucas Motloch and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission with a goal by Connor Losen 14:18 into the period.
Brendan Studioso, who has been one of the Bulls’ best players down the stretch, made sure the Bulls weren’t going to be down for long as his two second-period goals gave North Iowa a 3-2 lead.
"He’s a terrifically talented player and he plays," Sanden said. "He plays hard, he plays with pace and it doesn’t matter who we play and when.
"When you look at the results he’s producing right now, he’s producing like a veteran player and I can’t say that we’re shy to look to him to do stuff like that."
La Crosse fought back once again to tie the game 3-3 on Losen’s second goal and then came Joyaux's moment.
His goal at the beginning of a power play late in the third period put the bulls up 4-3 and ultimately provided the game winner on his first goal of the season.
“I didn’t know it went in at first so I didn’t know what to do, but everyone started chasing after me after it so you had to be happy about that,” Joyaux said.
Bump gave the Bulls a little insurance with a third-period goal to send the North Iowa faithful, who were maybe the loudest they’d been all season, home happy in what could be the last home game this season if the Bulls take care of business tonight.
The series moves to La Crosse tonight at 7 p.m. A win would push the Bulls back into the Silver Cup tournament.
“We’re going to have to come out even harder than we did (Friday),” Joyaux said. “They’re going to be home so they’re going to try to bring it. They’re on the line here so we’re just going to try to do our best to come out tomorrow.”