MASON CITY, Iowa – One year ago, forward Tyler Braccini was almost a North Iowa Bull.
A spot on a junior team a little closer to home turned out to be the best move for Braccini last season, but this year, the Minnesota native would indeed come to Mason City, closing out his career at the rink where he came so close to playing a season ago.
Braccini enjoyed a huge three-year prep career at Buffalo High School northwest of the Twin Cities, racking up 97 points over his varsity run and serving as the Bison’s alternate captain his junior season and a team captain as a senior. Scoring a team-high 40 points, including a five-point showing against Lakes Conference opponent Hopkins, landed him right on the Bulls’ radar.
However, that first junior appearance came with the St. Cloud Norsemen in the North American Hockey League. After an early-season game with St. Cloud last year, United States Hockey League teams began setting their rosters for a late start to the 2020-21 season, with many talented players getting swept up in the trickle-down effect of USHL teams making their final cuts. Two other teams – the Madison Capitols and Cedar Rapids Roughriders – would suspend play altogether for the season, sending even more talent to the NAHL. Unfortunately, Braccini was among those caught in the movement.
“When that happened, (head coach) Todd (Sanden) gave me a call, and I was really interested,” said Braccini. “I did a lot of research, and I guess at that point, I just wanted to stay home, which is probably the only reason I didn’t come here last year.”
A successful junior season in Minnesota landed him a second chance in the NAHL, ending up as the first-ever draft pick for the Anchorage Wolverines and the second overall pick in last summer’s NAHL Draft.
Braccini found himself on the move more than once during the 2021-22 campaign – after seven games and four points with the Wolverines, he landed back in the Twin Cities once more with the Minnesota Magicians. Six games later, right before the Christmas break, he made his final move to Mason City.
“It was great in Anchorage,” he said. “I loved the guys, and loved my billet house and what they had to offer me. Moving away was scary, but when I got there, it felt right. I had some pretty close guys on (the Magicians) that I knew when I was growing up, and then I had an opportunity to come here, and I jumped on it. I was sick, so I was supposed to come a day earlier, and the next day I got in my car and drove to practice. Todd and the coaches and all the guys made me feel at home right away.”
It didn’t take long for Braccini to make himself at home wearing the navy-and-green, either – after notching an assist in his first period as a Bull in a December 10 victory over Springfield, he notched his first goal a week later on a road trip against the Bismarck Bobcats. Jack Campion won a faceoff in the Bobcats’ zone, pushing it to Braccini just outside of the Bobcats’ slot. Braccini immediately hurled the puck toward the Bismarck net, beating Oskar Spinnars Nordin for a pivotal second-period goal and giving Campion his first NAHL point in the process.
“That one felt good. I didn’t even know it went in,” said Braccini. “All of the guys were celebrating more than I was. They were more excited than I was, so that was a cool thing for me too.”
Braccini closed out his final junior season with 13 points, with eight of those coming in a North Iowa uniform. He hasn’t yet announced a college commitment, but he says he has a few options and a final decision isn’t too far away.
“I’ve talked to a few schools, and I have a few that I’ve narrowed it down to,” he said. “It’s always a little harder with colleges – if you go on too many visits, they start to look the same.”