ST. PETERS, Mo. – After losing out on a shot at the Fraser Cup championship in 2020 following the NA3HL’s COVID-forced shutdown in mid-March, the North Iowa Bulls’ return to the tournament was a long-awaited one.
For the first time in five years, the Bulls will be in the mix on the last day. With the tournament into its final stages, North Iowa had only one hiccup early in the third period on the way to a 2-1 win over the Oklahoma City Blazers, earning a spot in the finals for the first time since 2016.
The loss ended the Blazers’ season, their first in the NA3HL after a six-year stint in the Western States Hockey League, and also ended the seasons of five former Bulls who landed on the Oklahoma City roster throughout the first half of the 2020-21 campaign. They advanced to the Fraser Cup semifinals by avenging a South Division Finals loss to the Texas Brahmas, but saw their run end with just one win on the weekend.
North Iowa played the majority of the contest with a one-goal lead, earning a goal from Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) just 3:40 into the game off of a shot along the goal line that deflected off of a defender’s stick. That bounce trickled through Blazers goaltender Olivier Charbonneau, giving the Bulls a 1-0 lead.
True to form throughout the tournament, North Iowa controlled the pace of the game – though not quite as consistently as in their pool-play tilts against the Sheridan Hawks and Northeast Generals – and built a 29-18 shots-on-goal advantage going into the third period.
Tommy Duren was able to find some space in front just 98 seconds out of the second intermission, left unmarked for a tying one-timer off of a pass out of the corner from Richard Indermill. The Bulls got the last word with 7:40 to play, as Indermill fanned on a clearing attempt at center and Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) rushed the puck down the right wing before finding Jack Campion (Crystal, Minn./Armstrong-Cooper H.S.) on the back door for a one-timer and the eventual winner.
Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) earned the nod again in net, making 26 saves on 27 Blazer chances to drop his goals-against average in the tournament to a paltry 0.99. Charbonneau closed out his junior career with an impressive showing of his own, making 32 saves. Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) picked up another assist, staying at the top of the scoring pace for the Bulls with six points in three games on the weekend.
“We’re all doing our part,” said Stokes. “We want to make it (to the finals). We want to win. Everyone’s blocking shots and everyone’s laying out for us, so it’s been great to see everyone’s energy.”
The win puts the Bulls in their fifth Fraser Cup championship game and first since winning the title in 2016 against the Metro Jets. Their opponent will be a familiar nemesis, with the Rochester Grizzlies advancing off of a dominant win over the Sheridan Hawks in which the Grizzlies racked up four goals in the first 17 minutes. North Iowa and Rochester met three times in exhibition play, with the Grizzlies winning twice. Their most recent meeting in Mason City on December 5 went to overtime, with a power play goal making the difference in the Grizzlies’ 5-4 win.
The opening puck drop at the St. Peters Rec-Plex is scheduled for 3 p.m., with live streaming coverage exclusively on HockeyTV.
2021-22 season tickets are on sale now as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League, with a 10-percent early-bird discount available through April 30. Updated news and information on the Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season and trip to the Fraser Cup championship tournament are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Oklahoma City 0 0 1 – 1
North Iowa 1 0 1 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Jones 3 (Newpower, Wendorf), 3:40. Penalties-Korolev Okc (tripping-minor), 7:45; Freeman Nio (slashing-minor), 18:38.
2nd Period- No Scoring.Penalties-Smith Nio (high sticking-minor), 6:10; Crook Okc (slashing-minor), 9:48; Onda Okc (hooking-minor), 13:38.
3rd Period-2, Oklahoma City, Duren 1 (Indermill), 1:38. 3, North Iowa, Campion 3 (Cichosz, Jorgenson), 12:20. Penalties-Nauss Nio (hooking-minor), 18:34.
Shots on Goal-Oklahoma City 8-10-9-27. North Iowa 13-16-5-34.
Power Play Opportunities-Oklahoma City 0 / 4; North Iowa 0 / 3.
Goalies-Oklahoma City, Charbonneau (34 shots-32 saves). North Iowa, Stokes (27 shots-26 saves).
Referees-Jack Young, Chazz Knoche.
Linesmen-Michael Ifkovits, Gerard Lamoureux.