MASON CITY, Iowa – It’s hard to truly “do it all” in just a few exhibition games, but the North Iowa Bulls have certainly done a lot this week.
Wednesday, they played a Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep team with some of the best young hockey players on the planet, and took a 7-3 loss.
Friday, they battled to a scoreless first period and played from ahead against the defending Robertson Cup runners-up and roared to a 7-1 win over the Aberdeen Wings, with the penalty-killers taking care of everything that was asked of them.
On Saturday, the Bulls played from behind for much of the contest, but battled back to wipe out a three-goal Wings lead before falling 5-4 in overtime to close out a rapid run through the preseason.
The last game of the weekend saw plenty of scoring in the opening period, but it all went to the Wings, starting with a turnaround shot from Kyle Gaffney at the 7:57 mark of the first period that put the visitors ahead, 1-0.
The Wings added on with 7:05 left in the period, when Anthony Messuri’s pass out of the corner hit Landry Schmuck at the edge of the slot, and his wrist shot beat Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) for a two-goal lead. They carried a 3-0 lead to the locker room thanks to Cade Nielson’s goal from the top of the zone with four minutes left in the period and 10 seconds remaining on the power play.
Down 19 shots to seven after one period, North Iowa switched Cullen DeYoung (Canton, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) into the net and began their climb back. With the Wings on the power play early in the second period, Byron Hartley (Philadelphia, Pa./Philly Little Flyers 18U) skated past Gaffney at the right wing and picked the forward’s pocket, racing the puck down the ice and beating Aberdeen goalie Kyle Kozma for a shorthanded goal at the 3:40 mark of the second period.
The Wings would stretch the lead back to three goals at 14:34, when DeYoung batted down Kevin MacKay’s left-wing shot – the carom went right to Owen DuBois in front of the North Iowa net, and DuBois picked up the second-chance goal to extend the lead to 4-1.
The hosts got a lengthy power play with 2:02 left in the period, after Jackson Yee was ejected for engaging with Jack Boxer (Colorado Springs, Colo./Amarillo Bulls) after being knocked down in front of the North Iowa net. Boxer did not have a chance to return the pleasantries, allowing the Bulls to enjoy a five-minute power play extending into the third period. With 11 seconds left, Kozma was able to stop Joey Potter’s (Los Angeles, Calif./Twin City Thunder) shot from the left half but not the second chance from Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U AAA) at the right dot, and the Bulls cut the lead to 4-2 going to the final period.
The last 20 minutes of regulation belonged to Hunter Bulger (St. Louis, Mo./St. Louis AAA Blues) – just three seconds after the power play ended, Boxer’s pass across the goal mouth ended up in front of Bulger, who happily tapped it in to push North Iowa to within one goal. The lead vanished with 10:04 left, as Bulger buried a chance off of an odd-man rush and a feed from Hartley.
“On the last goal, we were in the defensive zone starting out, and I just chipped it around a guy,” said Bulger. “Byron came slashing in, made a great pass over to me, and I just put it top glove and tied it up.”
The overtime period lasted just 52 seconds, and the Wings were the only team to get a shot – after each team made a single line change, Jacob Bosse drove the puck down the right wing and set it out front for Schmuck, who beat DeYoung for the final goal of the game.
Bulger was the man of the hour with his two critical goals, but Mesic co-headlined the Bulls’ stat line, picking up a goal and two assists, while Hartley made his presence known with a goal and an assist. Schmuck scored two goals, including the game-winner, while Gaffney scored a goal and an assist. Messuri and Luke Amell had two assists apiece.
Kozma was solid enough in net to earn the win, making 20 saves on 24 North Iowa shots. Stokes stopped 16 of the 19 shots he saw in a no-decision, while DeYoung took the hard-luck loss, making 16 saves on 18 Aberdeen chances after the first intermission. The power-play units took care of their share of the work as well, with the Bulls going 1-for-3 on the power play, plus Hartley’s shorthanded goal. Aberdeen went 1-for-2 with the extra man.
North Iowa wraps up the preseason with a 1-1-1 mark, and both teams will both say farewell to the preseason and head to the NAHL Showcase. The second decade of Bulls hockey will begin the exact same way the first decade did: with a four-day run in Blaine, Minnesota. The Bulls get the opening puck drop of the event, facing the Minnesota Wilderness at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
Single-game tickets for all preseason and regular-season games are now on sale – to purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ inaugural NAHL season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagramand YouTube.