ROCHESTER, Minn. – This was a big weekend for the Rochester Grizzlies. They started it off on a high note, winning the first of two against the North Iowa Bulls, 4-1 Friday night from the Rochester Rec Center. Rochester came into Friday sitting in third place in the West Division, four points up on New Ulm and six points up on Alexandria. North Iowa was sitting comfortably in second place, seven points up on the Grizzlies and already having a playoff spot clinched.
Nick Bucklin earned the start in net for the Grizzlies after shutting out Breezy Point last Saturday.
“We told Nick and Liam last week ‘if you win, you play again.’ I think we all kind of know Nick should be our guy. I think he kind of got a little complacent for a bit but he looks like he was back to his game and he was sharp tonight,” said Head Coach Casey Mignone.
He would get some help in the first period as Vladislav Sorokin scored yet another highlight-reel goal to give the Grizzlies the lead. Sorokin put the puck between his own legs to get around a defenseman and flip the puck over Dysen Skinner. The Grizzlies would get a five-minute power play in the first as Cam Fagerlee hit Seth Bacon from behind. Bacon, who was in his first game back after serving a four-game suspension, did not return for the rest of the first period but was back for the start of the second.
Sorokin doubled the lead at 11:02 of the second as his shot hit Skinner up high and bounced into the net off a Bulls defender. Lucas Newman picked up the lone assist on the goal. North Iowa would come right back and cut the lead in half just a couple minutes later as Peter Verstegen beat Bucklin from in between the circles for his 29th of the season. North Iowa would not put another past Bucklin in the second despite putting up 19 shots on net in the period.
Rochester would lock it down in the third as Newman fired the puck past Skinner to make it a 3-1 game. Richard Szabo made the nice pass to set up Newman right after the puck hit Sorokin, sending him down on the ice in pain. He would get up not too long after to celebrate with his teammates. Erik Evans chipped in his first as a member of the Grizzlies after knocking home a juicy rebound. This was Evans’ first goal in his fourth game on Rochester.
“It definitely felt great to get the monkey off my back especially against the former team. It was at a point of the game where it sealed the deal, we got that three goal lead where it was enough separation to definitely seal it. It just felt good not only in the sense to get a goal but in the sense to seal the deal for the team. It’s two huge points, we’re fighting for playoffs with New Ulm and Alexandria right on our back. It’s good to get some separation against a good team like that,” said Evans.
Bucklin shut the door the rest of the way, turning aside 40 North Iowa shots.
“Every game for us is going to be a huge playoff game even though it’s not playoffs. Every point matters. I kind of went into the game with the mentality that you have to play your best and try your hardest. The boys came out and played for me, too, blocking shots and getting in lanes. It was a good time,” said Bucklin.
The win puts Rochester at 27-14-1, good for 55 points and still in third place in the West Division. The Grizzlies are now five points back of second place North Iowa and still four points up on New Ulm and six points up on Alexandria. With the North Iowa loss and a win for themselves, the Granite City Lumberjacks have clinched the West Division title.
Rochester and North Iowa battle again tomorrow night on the road in Mason City, IA with a 7:30pm start time.