PEORIA, Ill. – It’s not about how you start, but about how you finish. The North Iowa Bulls aren’t exactly discussing the end of the 2016-17 season yet, with the Silver Cup playoffs a full six months away, nor will they spend much time dwelling on their season opener Saturday night. The Bulls dropped a 7-3 decision to the Peoria Mustangs at the Owens Center, opening the year with a loss for the fourth time in their six-year history. The Mustangs made the most of 26 shots at the net, riding JT Kossakowski’s 35 saves to a home win.
Peoria led virtually from the word “go,” scoring just 59 seconds into the contest. Thomas Kolaz’s low-angle wrister rebounded out in front of Zack St. John (Coon Rapids, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), where Tony Iacullo was able to swat the puck home for the opening goal of the new year. Iacullo added to his tally by elevating a fadeaway shot of his own into the back of the net just under halfway through the first period.
Braden Stewart’s goal just 1:39 into the second period set Peoria up with a 3-0 lead before Zach Cox went to work. Cox opened his scoring for the year at 7:53 of the second, and then took advantage of a rebound after an initial try by Andrej Buchko, tapping in his second goal with under three minutes left in the period. Enter Owen Larson (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for North Iowa, who notched the season’s first goal for the defending 3HL champs – a blue-line pass from Mike Lyons (Wheaton, Ill./North Iowa Bulls) found Larson on his way into the slot, and Larson’s wrist shot beat Kossakowski to his right with just 8 seconds left in the period, cutting the Mustangs’ lead to 5-1 heading to the third.
A low wrist shot from Jack Healy to St. John’s right snuck in with under two minutes elapsed in the final period, building the lead back to five, but the Bulls pulled out a mini-rally with goals from Steven Mordini (Baraboo, Wisc./Team Wisconsin) and Marshall Barnes (Edina, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at 4:13 and 6:08, respectively. With a 6-3 lead in hand, Austin Wisely found Buchko on the right side for a short-distance one-timer and the final goal with 4:00 left on the clock.
Barnes’s third-period tally represented the only special-teams goal of the night, as the Bulls were able to kill off all three Peoria chances in the game. North Iowa went 1-for-3 themselves on the power play, while Larson, Barnes and Mordini all added assists to go with their goals in the contest. North Iowa will go for the split Sunday afternoon back at the Owens Center, with the opening puck drop scheduled for 1:15 p.m.