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North Iowa Bulls outlast top-seeded Sheridan in OT to open Fraser Cup play
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North Iowa Bulls outlast top-seeded Sheridan in OT to open Fraser Cup play

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North Iowa Bulls vs. Sheridan

Carson Jones scores for the Bulls in a Holiday Classic matchup against the Sheridan Hawks in December. Jones scored twice, including the game-winner, in Friday's 2-1 overtime victory at the Fraser Cup championship tournament on Friday afternoon.

ST. PETER, Mo. – North Iowa undoubtedly enjoys its visits to the Fraser Cup championship tournament - the Bulls have been to the North American Tier 3 Hockey League's "big dance" seven times, including this year's trip to suburban St. Louis.

The Bulls' opening day of competition at the 2021 championships lasted just a touch longer, needing overtime to push past the Frontier Division champion Sheridan Hawks by a 2-1 final. The teams met in the Bulls' "Holiday Classic" event in December, with the Bulls winning 7-3 and 6-0 decisions, but both of those contests were exhibition games as the teams looked to stay sharp in the wake of Minnesota's statewide COVID sports shutdown.

This time it counted, and the teams ground out a stalemate in the first half of their round-robin game at the tournament. The Bulls fired off the first five shots of the game, and kept the Hawks off the shot chart for the first half of the opening period.

At 12:25 of the second period, Sheridan broke the stalemate for the opening goal of the game. North Iowa goaltender Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) was able to deny Simon Herz's shot from the left point, but with Zach Brydges and Luke Desmarais in front of the net, Desmarais was able to scratch out a goal on the third chance and give the Hawks a 1-0 lead.

The Bulls posted a 36-30 shots-on-goal advantage in the first 40 minutes, and Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) whipped a turnaround chance to the net at the 4:35 mark of the third period, beating Christian Wong-Ramos from the right-wing faceoff circle for the tying goal.

By virtue of pushing the game to overtime, Sheridan stretched their total to four points of an available six in the pool-play standings, cementing their spot in the semifinal round on Sunday. However, Jones struck again at the 1:20 mark of the overtime, when Carter Newpower's (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) pass down the left-wing wall caught Jones just above the goal line, and he dangled the puck across the front of the goal and stuffed it past Wong-Ramos for the game-winner.

"We knew that if we just kept going and got shots on net - and we got a lot of them - eventually, something had to go in," said Jones. "We never gave up, played with confidence the whole time, and it worked out for us. We came out with a big W."

North Iowa made the Hawks' netminder earn his keep in Friday's game, with Wong-Ramos making 45 saves in the losing effort. Stokes was plenty busy himself, making 40 stops in the overtime victory for the Bulls. The penalty-killing units were stellar, with Sheridan killing off all five of North Iowa's chances, and the Bulls stretched their penalty-killing mark in the postseason to 9-for-10.

Next up for North Iowa is a matchup on Saturday afternoon against the Northeast Generals, who won the East Division and entered the tournament as the fourth seed. Sheridan's offense skated circles around the Generals in Thursday's tournament opener, however, breaking the Fraser Cup single-game scoring record in a 13-2 rout.

The task for the Bulls is simply to get their game against Northeast to overtime, though a regulation win for the Generals would end North Iowa's season. A win of any sort for the Bulls would give them the top finish in the tournament's afternoon pool, pitting them against the second seed from the evening pool of the Rochester Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Blazers and Texas Brahmas. Saturday's game at the St. Peters Rec-Plex gets underway at 2:30 p.m.

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