MASON CITY, Iowa – North Iowa wrapped up the West Division championship with a win in front of a record crowd on Saturday night. The Willmar WarHawks were knocked out of the playoffs this past week thanks to Alexandria’s overtime affair against New Ulm on Friday. Surely the meeting between the two teams on Sunday would carry no weight with each team’s playoff fate wrapped up, right?
Far from it – the Bulls had one more home crowd to wow, and “wow” was right – 1,010 fans saw North Iowa rout the WarHawks by an 8-2 count, putting the finishing touch on an unforgettable half-season of hockey in downtown Mason City.
As they had done on six straight power plays against Willmar prior to Sunday evening, the Bulls lit the lamp – Justin Daly (Delano, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) had the finish at 6:50 of the opening period, halfway through a hooking penalty to Zack Bender. The setup came from Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.), whose pass to Daly at mid-slot set up his snipe into the upper corner of the net.
Just past the halfway mark of the first period, Zach Simon’s (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) wrist shot from the right wing was shouldered aside, but Jordan Roo (Champlin, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was right there to tap in the rebound for a 2-0 lead. With 1:46 to go in the period, though, Eli Slagter switched over to the right wing and used Nico Aguilera (Lakeville, Minn./Lakeville South H.S.) as a screen as he leaned into a shot to beat Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./Blaine H.S.) and cut the margin to 2-1 at the end of the first period.
Daninger saw just four shots, making three stops before departing the game going into the second period in favor of Owen Carlson (Esko, Minn./Cloquet H.S.), making his North Iowa debut. Matt Dahlseide (Maplewood, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) gave Carlson some extra cushion, tossing a wrist shot to the far post from the left wing at 6:11 of the second period.
Slagter re-appeared on the score sheet at the 8:59 mark, rolling one through the slot that snuck underneath Carlson to make it a 3-2 game. The Bulls answered just 36 seconds later, when Sean Sullivan’s (Middleton, Wis./Madison Capitols 18U) high shot was batted up in the air before bouncing behind Luke Weberg and into the Willmar net.
With 6:05 to go in the period, Simon found a setup pass from Roo at the bottom corner of the faceoff circle, turned and tossed it past Weberg to stretch the lead to 5-2. Carter Wagner (Lino Lakes, Minn./Odessa Jackalopes) picked the puck off the right-wing wall to set up the next goal, a point-blank one-timer from Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/Okanagan U20) with 2:24 left in the period.
The Bulls went to the break with one more goal at 19:55 of the period – Carter Eha’s (Bloomington, Minn./Jamestown Rebels) short-range try was turned aside by Weberg, but Roo was able to juggle the rebound over him into the net for a 7-2 lead. Dahlseide made one final return to the scoring column at 5:55 of the final period, with Daly dropping a pass on the doorstep for Dahlseide to tap into the net for the 8-2 lead.
Carlson earned the win in his Bulls debut with a dozen saves, while Weberg made 36 saves in the loss. Roo and Simon finished the night with four points apiece, while Dahlseide and Eha had three each. With an 0-for-2 mark on the power play, the WarHawks finished the season series against North Iowa just 2-for-19 on the man-advantage, while the Bulls closed out the head-to-head set with 10 goals on 26 power plays.
Sunday’s game closed out a home slate that saw the Bulls average 1,242 fans, far and away the top mark in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League. The team’s average crowd in the second half of the season was 1,585, including three crowds of more than 2,000. Eight of the 11 home games in the season’s second half saw a crowd of more than 1,400 in the building, a crowd too large to be contained in the team’s former home at the North Iowa Ice Arena.
The win was North Iowa’s sixth in a row, pushing the Bulls’ record to 36-7-2-0. Next weekend will see North Iowa head to arch-rival Granite City to close out the regular season before opening the playoffs in two weeks against Alexandria. Next Friday and Saturday’s contests at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota are both set to begin at 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
Playoff tickets for the Bulls’ first-round series against the Alexandria Blizzard will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday – season ticket holders have the first right of refusal to hold their seats for the postseason before those seats go on sale to the general public. Game 1 of the best-of-three series is likely to be played on Friday, March 13 at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, but the postseason schedule will not be official until after the NA3HL schedule concludes next weekend.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets to upcoming Bulls home games, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
Willmar 1 1 0 – 2
North Iowa 2 5 1 – 8
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Daly 16 (Wahlin, Dahlseide), 6:51 (PP). 2, North Iowa, Roo 23 (Simon, Eha), 10:11. 3, Willmar, Slagter 15 (Holt, Sylvester), 18:14. Penalties-Bender Wil (hooking-minor), 5:48.
2nd Period-4, North Iowa, Dahlseide 23 (Petronack), 6:11. 5, Willmar, Slagter 16 (Ginger, Ohnstad), 8:59. 6, North Iowa, Sullivan 6 (Roo, Simon), 9:35. 7, North Iowa, Simon 7 (Roo, Eha), 13:55. 8, North Iowa, Isogai 21 (Wagner), 17:36. 9, North Iowa, Roo 24 (Eha, Simon), 19:55. Penalties-Stewart Nio (holding-minor), 4:58; Sylvester Wil (kneeing-minor), 5:39.
3rd Period-10, North Iowa, Dahlseide 24 (Daly, Petronack), 5:55. Penalties-Sullivan Nio (cross checking-minor), 8:25; Klatt Wil (boarding-minor), 12:55; Ginger Wil (charging-minor), 19:42.
Shots on Goal-Willmar 4-6-7-17. North Iowa 16-17-11-44.
Power Play Opportunities-Willmar 0 / 2; North Iowa 1 / 4.
Goalies-Willmar, Weberg 7-10-0-0 (44 shots-36 saves). North Iowa, Daninger 10-2-0-0 (4 shots-3 saves); Carlsion 1-0-0-0 (13 shots-12 saves).
Linesmen-Matthew Heinen, Davids Rozitis.