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Minotauros stifle Bulls, take series opener 4-1

Zavoda stops 26 shots in first NAHL start

Ryan Ladika/MDN Defenseman Ben Johnson skates the puck out of the Minotauros’ defensive zone during the first period.

After the way the Minotauros’ last home series with the North Iowa Bulls went, Minot was determined to avoid a repeat.

A pair of first-period goals went a long way in kicking off the Minotauros’ first homestand of the 2022 calendar year off on a positive note, as Minot took the series opener by a 4-1 final score to keep pace with the first-place Austin Bruins who also won their Friday contest.

Donning specially-made blue jerseys that will be auctioned off in support of the Dream Catchers baseball organization, the Minotauros began a four-game stay on home ice Friday with their third meeting with North Iowa this season and first since the clubs split a two-game series at Mason City Arena.

Minot’s 6-1 rout of the Bulls Oct. 16 represented a release of pent-up frustration after North Iowa took the first three games of the season series by an aggregate 12 goals to seven, including a two-game sweep of the Minotauros at Maysa Arena.

“It’s a long time ago, almost three months, and the challenge that our group had this weekend was just proving how much we have improved here in that time,” said Minot head coach Cody Campbell. “We did a good job of doing that tonight, we will have a tough challenge on our hands to finish the job tomorrow night.”

Behind netminder Austin Zavoda’s first start of his NAHL career and second appearance of the season, the Minotauros ensured the rookie goalie faced little pressure during the first 20 minutes. Minot’s stingy play in the defensive zone held North Iowa without a shot for the first 11:10 of the evening tilt.

“The last three months, I’ve just been practicing since leaving the (Alberta Junior Hockey League),” Zavoda said of his extended time off since arriving in Minot in November and earning his first start Friday. “It’s just been a grind each day in and out. And coming to the rink, it’s no different than any other game I’ve prepared for, just a little bit nervous getting in between the pipes for these guys. But they had a good day, so did I, and we got the win.”

The Bulls finally notched a shot on goal on their first power play of the evening, but Minot dispatched of Trevor Stachowiak’s hooking infraction to keep the game scoreless until the team’s first goal moments later.

Minot captain Cole Mickel was among the last to enter the offensive zone on a rush back up the ice, and he gained control of a fluttering puck just inside the blue line. After a couple of strides to his left, the defenseman ripped a quick wrist shot from just above the near circle that beat Bulls goaltender Hunter Garvey 12:27 into the game.

Colby Joseph would double the Minotauros’ lead in the final six minutes of the opening period. With North Iowa’s Anthony Domina in the penalty box for tripping, Joseph received a feed in the far circle from Ben Johnson, and the former quickly corralled the puck before a quick shot of his own found its way past Garvey.

“We just needed to be a little bit more dialed in offensively, which I thought we were tonight,” Campbell said, referencing Minot’s last road trip during which it combined for one goal in two games against the Bruins. “We created a ton of chances, a good job of everybody chipping in and contributing. Obviously, a couple of power play goals helped for sure, but our energy and our compete level was way higher tonight.”

Zavoda’s six first-period saves held the Bulls off the scoreboard in the first frame, and an impressive save by the Minot netminder highlighted a second period that saw the Bulls halve Minot’s advantage.

North Iowa forward Byron Hartley brought the puck around a sliding block attempt by Mickel in the low slot and waited Zavoda out before attempting a shot on the goalie’s stick-side. Zavoda reached out to his right and stuffed Hartley at the goal line with only his stick, bringing the Maysa Arena crowd to its feet.

Greg Japchen later netted his seventh goal of the season on a North Iowa power play with 3:02 left in the second frame, solving Zavoda for the first time and putting the Bulls on the scoreboard.

Minot hung with the Bulls and kept the late tally from snowballing into a North Iowa rally. Instead, Kade Nielsen scored the Minotauros’ second power play goal of the night and Joseph added his second goal of the evening in a dominant third frame, sealing the three-goal win for Minot.

The Minotauros recorded double-digit shots in each period and outshot the Bulls 47-27, while Zavoda stopped 26 in goal for Minot. The two teams will wrap up the series Saturday evening with an 8:05 p.m. puck drop from Maysa Arena.

“It feels amazing,” Zavoda added. “Back when I was up in Canada, we hadn’t won a game in a little bit. We had some guys injured, and just coming down here and winning a game first time for me is just unreal.”

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