MASON CITY, Iowa – Four big points were on the line for the Grizzlies this weekend against the North Iowa Bulls. Friday night saw a 4-1 victory for Rochester, where the Grizzlies didn’t have to worry about mounting a comeback. Saturday night proved to be different, and Lucas Newman played the role as hero. Newman scored the tying goal with 34 seconds left in the third period and the overtime winner with 1:46 left and the Grizzlies defeated the Bulls, 5-4.
The Grizzlies (28-14-1, 57 points) came into Saturday night five points behind North Iowa for second place in the West Division and four points up on fourth place New Ulm.
The first period did not start in favor of Rochester, as North Iowa opened the scoring just 3:21 into the first as Connor Karlson beat goalie Nick Bucklin, who earned the start after beating the Bulls Friday. Just 1:36 later, Jarod Blackowiak made it 2-0 Bulls. The Bulls would score two goals on just six shots in the first period. Rochester would tally 14 shots in the first but could not solve North Iowa goalie Evan Babekuhl.
Rochester would respond in the second period, however. Nic Leisen scored his seventh of the season at 9:21 of the second, cutting the lead in half. Hunter Hall and Erik Evans added the assists on the goal. The Grizzlies would get a power play chance a little over halfway through the period as Cam Fagerlee would sit for high sticking. Vladislav Sorokin would convert on the power play, tying the game at two.
Both teams would trade goals in the third period. North Iowa broke the tie on the power play with Peter Verstegen scoring his 30th of the season. Just 1:04 later, Sorokin scored his second of the game, tying the contest at three. Newman and Logan Olson assisted on Sorokin’s 38th goal of the season. The tie game would only last a few minutes as Matt Dahlseide broke the tie with his 17th goal of the season at 6:50 of the third.
The score would stay 4-3 Bulls for most of the third period. Rochester would pull Bucklin to get an extra attacker out on the ice with time running out in the third period. After some offensive zone pressure, a loose puck came to Newman and he beat Babekuhl with his 13th goal of the season, tying the game at four. Both teams would have solid puck possession during the overtime period, but it was Newman who would end it. He made a play to cut to the middle of the ice, beating a Bulls defender and then firing a wrist shot past Babekuhl, giving Rochester a 5-4 victory.
The win now puts Rochester just four points back of North Iowa for second place in the West Division with each team having just four games remaining. The Grizzlies also had to keep the New Ulm Steel and Alexandria Blizzard at bay, who both picked up wins Saturday. New Ulm remains four points back of Rochester in the standings, currently sitting in fourth place. Alexandria is six points back of the Grizzlies and in fifth place of the West Division.
Rochester is on the road next weekend for two games against the Evansville Jr. Thunderbolts. The two teams have not met since the end of September when Rochester took both games against the Jr. Thunderbolts on home ice.