SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. – The rivalry between the North Iowa Bulls and Granite City Lumberjacks is 10 years and 81 games old, but it’s never looked quite the way it did Saturday night. The Bulls and Lumberjacks closed out their closest division race ever with North Iowa’s regular-season finale, and a winner-take-all clash for the West Division championship.
A 3-1 win would become “how the West was won” for North Iowa, finishing the regular season with 56 points and a 27-11-1-1 record, earning their eighth division championship in nine years outright. The Bulls’ victory also denied Granite City in its bid for a sixth division championship in their 10-year run in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League.
The teams spent much of the first period feeling each other out before a turnover in the Bulls zone led Granite City to its first goal of the night. Nick Richert took control of the puck along the left-wing wall, feeding it out front to an open Tucker Skime for a one-timer with 3:05 left in the period.
Granite City led the shots-on-goal count 9-4 after the opening period, but the Bulls worked quickly on the power play in the second. Just 16 seconds after a high-sticking call against Hanson O’Leary early in the period, a pass from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) at the top of the zone tipped off of Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) in front of the net, and Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.) found it on the doorstep for the tying goal at 3:42 of the period.
Camden Benson picked up a tripping minor at 8:47 of the second period, and the Bulls’ power play unit struck again. Just 14 seconds into the power play, Nauss again led the formation, finding Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) on the top of the right-wing faceoff circle – Newpower blasted one to the top corner to Bailey Huber’s right, clipping the crossbar on its way in for the 2-1 North Iowa lead.
“We were just putting pucks on net, moving the puck around,” said Newpower. “We were just calm. We weren’t nervous, shaken or anything. [Getting] easy access to the net was all we needed to do.”
After going just 2-for-4 the previous night, the Bulls’ penalty-killing play was exquisite, killing off all six of Granite City’s power plays, including two pivotal chances in the third period. Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) iced the title by digging the puck off the wall at neutral ice and firing it into the empty net with just 11.4 seconds to go, setting off the North Iowa celebration.
“This is just an amazing feeling,” said Newpower. “All of the boys have been grinding for the past six months, for 40 games. We just wanted to play a full 60 (minutes) tonight and get it done.”
Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) made 28 saves in the clinching victory for the Bulls, earning just his second win as a Bull, while Huber took the loss behind a 19-save performance. Jones finished with a goal and an assist, while Nauss assisted on all three of the Bulls’ goals. He finishes the regular season with 38 points, including 28 assists, the first Bulls defenseman ever to lead the team in that category. Jones closed the regular season with 41 points, picking up the Bulls’ scoring championship for the year.
Saturday’s win also sets up a best-of-3 playoff series with the Alexandria Blizzard, who fell 2-0 to the Willmar WarHawks on Saturday, locking up the third West Division seed for Willmar. The Bulls’ West Division semifinal schedule will be released on Monday, with live streaming coverage throughout the Fraser Cup playoffs available on HockeyTV and free audio streaming of all home games on Mixlr.
2021-22 season tickets are now on sale as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League, with a 15-percent early-bird discount set to expire on Wednesday. Updated news and information on the Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 0 2 1 – 3
Granite City 1 0 0 – 1
1st Period-1, Granite City, Skime 11 (Richert), 16:55. Penalties-Nauss Nio (hooking-minor), 8:53; Daikawa Gcy (hooking-minor), 9:31.
2nd Period-2, North Iowa, Heffron 8 (Isogai, Nauss), 3:42 (PP). 3, North Iowa, Newpower 13 (Nauss, Jones), 9:01 (PP). Penalties-O’Leary Gcy (high sticking-minor), 3:26; Jones Nio (holding-minor), 5:58; Benson Gcy (tripping-minor), 8:47; Huffman Nio (hooking-minor), 10:12; Heffron Nio (slashing-minor), 13:18; Halliday Gcy (head contact-minor), 15:17.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Jones 20 (Collins, Nauss), 19:49 (EN). Penalties-Campion Nio (tripping-minor), 9:19; Prifrel Gcy (too many men-minor), 17:09; Freeman Nio (slashing-minor), 17:14.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 4-14-4-22. Granite City 9-11-9-29.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 2 / 5; Granite City 0 / 6.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes 2-2-0-0 (29 shots-28 saves). Granite City, Huber 15-6-0-1 (21 shots-19 saves).
Linesmen-Ben Gawlik, Tyler Willie.