SATURDAY, SEP. 10 – 6:45 P.M., OWENS CENTER (PEORIA, ILL.)
SUNDAY, SEP. 11 – 1:15 P.M., OWENS CENTER (PEORIA, ILL.)
NORTH IOWA BULLS (0-0-0, 0 pts)
@ PEORIA MUSTANGS (0-0-0, 0 pts)
IN A NUTSHELL: The NA3HL season is off and running, and the Bulls open their 2016-17 season with a blast from their Silver Cup past.
ALL-TIME SERIES: North Iowa leads, 4-2-0 (last meeting: 2013 Silver Cup finals; Bulls won, 11-0).
LAST SEASON’S RECAP: Mason City, Iowa became NA3HL’s Titletown again last season as a storied group brought home the team’s third Silver Cup title and third national championship in a four-year stretch. 13 Bulls players “graduated,” or aged out of the program with almost all moving on to NCAA Division III and ACHA hockey programs for this season. Their new single-season scoring record-holder, Brett Gravelle, ended his junior career with a hat trick in a 4-1 win over the Metro Jets in last April’s Silver Cup title game.
UPCOMING SCHEDULE: The Bulls will square off against the St. Louis Jr. Blues in two weeks, renewing a rivalry that went dormant during the 2015-16 campaign. The first home weekend will pit North Iowa against the last team they faced in the regular season, the Chicago Bulldogs, on Friday, Sept. 30.
COVERAGE: All North Iowa Bulls games, home and away, are streamed live at FASTHockey.com.
YOU SPIN ME RIGHT ROUND (LIKE A RECORD): The Bulls set 29 new team records last season as part of a 50-3-3 NA3HL season (plus a non-league victory against Shattuck-St. Mary’s). Among the many records set by the team last season was the single-season NA3HL goals record (Brett Gravelle, 57) and the league’s shutout, goals-against average and save-percentage record (all now held by Tommi Ahlgren).
WELCOME BACK: With 13 players leaving junior hockey after last year, the biggest question heading into this season was which players would be coming back. The answer to that question – almost everybody. The Bulls’ second-leading scorer from a year ago is back as Marshall Barnes returns – forwards Kohei Sato and Sean Mallonee are also back after tendering with NAHL teams during the previous off-season. In all, out of a possible 12 returners (including Mike Lyons, who missed the 2016 portion of the year with a knee injury), 11 are back with the team for the opening weekend.
YOU’RE HIRED: North Iowa’s opponent in this season opener made a splash late in the offseason with the hiring of NHL veteran David Karpa as its new head coach. Karpa’s NHL career spanned 12 seasons, including more than 550 games. He was part of one of the sport’s most bizarre stories of the 2015-16 season as an assistant coach for the Ontario Hockey League’s Flint Firebirds, being let go twice in the same season. After being fired a month into the season along with head coach John Gruden, a brief player walkout resulted in his and Gruden’s reinstatement. Karpa and Gruden were let go for good in mid-February, leading to a five-year OHL suspension for owner Rolf Nilssen. He replaces Tyler Rennette, who moved up to the NAHL as an assistant coach for the Springfield Jr. Blues.
MY OPPONENT’S YOUTH AND INEXPERIENCE: One of the Mustangs’ biggest storylines of the early season will be their youth – only three players on Peoria’s roster are 1996 birth-year players, who will finish their junior careers this year. Forward Alec Mickel is the only 2000 birth-year player on David Karpa’s roster, but seven players on Peoria’s opening-night roster are ‘99s, including two of the three goaltenders. On the plus side, four of the team’s top six players are back from a team that finished 32-12-3, with the second-best record in the 3HL’s Midwest Division.