ST. PETERS, MO. – Despite scoring the game’s first goal 4:25 into the first period, it would prove to be the Grizzlies’ only tally of the Fraser Cup Final as they fell to the North Iowa Bulls, 5-1.
It was the first appearance in the Fraser Cup Final for the Rochester Grizzlies, a team that was founded just three years ago after taking over the formerly named Rochester Ice Hawks. On the other side, it was the North Iowa Bulls, who, unlike Rochester, have had plenty of experience in the NA3HL’s ultimate game, having won the title three times before.
In the opening period, the Grizzlies struck first. Joey Fodstad raced into the offensive zone down the left-wing and fired a shot on goal. The rife ricocheted off the pad of North Iowa goalie Carsen Stokes but landed right on the stick of Grizzlies’ forward Cole Gibson who was streaking in and manages to bury it in the back of the net.
Rochester only held the lead for five minutes and 20 seconds before the Bulls evened things up. Breaking into the zone, Bull forward Gavin Wendorf rifled a shot from the point which was touched out front by Jac Treimert and past the arm of Grizzlies netminder Shane Soderwall. Later in the period, Soderwall made the save of the game sliding to his left side in a two-pad stack and absolutely robbing the Bulls go-ahead bid. After one period of action, the teams headed to the locker room deadlocked at 1 goal apiece.
In the second period, the Grizzlies lost their grip on the wheel. North Iowa netted two goals, just two-and-a-half minutes apart, including a power-play goal to take the 3-1 lead. Despite battling back the rest of the middle period, North Iowa jumped out to a commanding 4-1 lead late in the second period when Lucas Jorgenson netted his second goal of the playoffs.
In the third, the Grizzlies jumped on their horse early but couldn’t get the puck past Jones. After getting their first power-play of the game, Rochester also came up empty despite four shots on goal in the 2-minute span. Head Coach Chris Ratzloff went for broke in the third period, pulling Soderwall with a little over three minutes remaining and Rochester down 4-1. The move generated some offense, but ultimately not enough as the Bulls tacked on an empty-netter to take the score to 5-1. Following the empty-net goal, Ratzloff opted to send Zach Wiese out between the pipes, giving the Owatonna, MN, native his first action in the Fraser Cup Final. The final minutes of the clock wound down and after the horn sounded, the North Iowa Bulls had earned their fourth NA3HL Championship over the new kids on the block, the Rochester Grizzlies, by a final score of 5-1.
Shane Soderwall kicked aside 32 of 37 shots he saw in the game while winning goaltender Carsen Jones was good on 31 of 32 Grizzlies shots.
For Rochester, the game caps off a remarkable start to the franchise since being taken over by new ownership in the summer of 2018. In their first season in the league, the Grizzlies earned a playoff berth in which they fell in three games to the North Iowa Bulls in the first round of the NA3HL Playoffs. After a league-wide realignment for the 2019-20 NA3HL season moved Rochester to the Central Division, they found their first of two consecutive Division Championships. Poised to make a deep run in 2019-20, the NA3HL postseason was unceremoniously canceled following the COVID-19 outbreak. Viewed as one of the favorites to win the Fraser Cup last season, the Grizzlies felt all year long that they had some unfinished business and it stuck out in their play. Following a regular season that saw them post a record of 34-5-0-1, the Grizzlies earned playoff series wins over Oregon and Peoria to punch their ticket to the Fraser Cup Championship. While competing in the Fraser Cup round-robin, the Grizzlies made quick work of Texas, Oklahoma City, and Sheridan setting their date with the North Iowa Bulls in the Final.
The Rochester Grizzlies have done nothing but improve year-over-year since coming into the league. Starting with a fourth-place finish and a playoff berth, continuing with a Central Division Championship the very next year, and most recently another Central Division Championship complete with an appearance in the Fraser Cup Final. That said, continuing on their current trend, there is only one more step ahead of them, Fraser Cup Champions. That run will have to wait for another season as the 2021-22 season is only months away.