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North Iowa Bulls advance to ninth straight division championship series

North Iowa Bulls advance to ninth straight division championship series

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North Iowa Bulls-advance

North Iowa forward Jac Triemert waits for a pass in a recent home game against the Alexandria Blizzard. Triemert had a career night in Sunday's West Division Semifinal matchup, with two goals and an assist in a 3-1 win.

The North Iowa Bulls are moving on – again.

The Bulls rose above a stiff Game 3 test in the NA3HL West Division semifinals, earning a 3-1 victory over the Alexandria Blizzard on Easter Sunday and moving on to their ninth straight division championship series.

North Iowa did it all after charging back from down one game to none after falling 2-1 in overtime in the series's opening night on Friday.

Jac Triemert starred for the Bulls, posting his best game in a North Iowa uniform with two goals and an assist. Those three points tied a career best, which he set with three assists on two separate occasions during the 2019-20 season, and sets a new mark unmatched even as a high school player in Woodbury, Minnesota.

Triemert pounced on an innocent clearing attempt into the Blizzard zone just 5:37 into the game, snatching up a bounce off the end boards and stuffing it past Atticus Kelly for a 1-0 lead. Just as they'd done in the first two games, the Bulls controlled the pace with 18 shots in the opening 20 minutes to Alexandria's nine.

However, the Blizzard grabbed the momentum just 2:04 out of the intermission, when Nikolai Rajala cruised into the North Iowa zone and found Caleb Strong on the backdoor for a one-timer to tie the game at 1-1.

Triemert helped to set up the eventual game-winner just over five minutes later, when Garrett Freeman drove the puck down the right-wing boards and fed it to Max Savaloja in front of the net. Savaloja deked the puck to his forehand side, and tapped in the go-ahead goal at 7:12 of the second period, giving the Bulls a 2-1 advantage.

The North Iowa lead settled at two goals with just 1:38 remaining, when Triemert swept in behind the cage, turned at the left-wing faceoff circle and whipped one toward the top of the Blizzard net. That shot also beat Kelly, putting the Bulls up by a 3-1 count nearing the end of the second period.

Alexandria posted a small advantage in the shot count in the third period, but both teams came up empty on the power play, and neither team scored again, giving the Bulls the two-games-to-one victory and sending them once again to the division finals.

Carsen Stokes was masterful in net once again, turning aside 24 Blizzard shots to close out the series with a scorching .948 save percentage and a paltry 1.32 goals-against average. Kelly saw his junior career close with a 40-save performance, taking all three of Alexandria's decisions in the West Division Semifinals. Brendan Sloth earned two assists of his own in the win for the Bulls.

North Iowa extended its record to 4-1 in decisive Game 3 scenarios, while Alexandria dropped to 1-6 all-time in a winner-take-all Game 3. Excluding the 2013 divisional series, which was played in a best-of-5 format, every division semifinal in Blizzard history has gone the maximum three games.

The end of this playoff series also ends a spirited rivalry with the Alexandria Blizzard after 55 meetings. North Iowa won 42 of those meetings, but will not face Alexandria again following the Bulls' impending move to the North American Hockey League. Those 55 meetings include five in the 2019 and 2021 postseasons, of which the Bulls won four.

The Bulls head to the Fraser Cup West Division Finals, where the upstart Willmar WarHawks await after sweeping second-seeded Granite City on the other side of the West Division bracket.

The West Division Finals will also be played in a best-of-3 format, with exact dates and times to be announced early this coming week. All North Iowa playoff games can be seen live on HockeyTV.


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