ST. PETERS, Mo. – After four seasons off the peak of the North American Tier 3 Hockey League mountain, the Bulls are back on top.
North Iowa capped its “Decade of Dominance” with its fourth national championship, earning the NA3HL’s Fraser Cup title on Monday with a 5-1 win over the Rochester Grizzlies. The Bulls previously won USA Hockey national titles in 2013 and 2015, and a de facto national title in 2016 after the cancellation of the USA Hockey championship tournament the previous year. The Bulls won a Silver Cup in 2014 but did not bring home the USA Hockey title, while they followed a Silver Cup runner-up finish with the last USA Hockey title the following year.
The teams, only an hour-and-a-half apart, had not seen each other in any official capacity, with the NA3HL limiting teams to divisional competition during the regular season in order to limit travel amid ongoing COVID concerns. The teams did meet in an unofficial capacity three times this season, with two coming in the preseason. The Grizzlies took an exhibition contest 5-4 in overtime in their only in-season get-together on December 5 in Mason City.
The win was an exclamation mark to a 2021 Fraser Cup tournament that was a challenge at times for the Bulls, with a pair of 2-1 wins on the weekend, including an overtime game in their first outing on Friday against the top-seeded Sheridan Hawks. It marks the third time that the last seed in the tournament has won it all, after the Granite City Lumberjacks took home the crown in 2015 and again in 2017.
A Rochester team that rocketed to a 7-1 semifinal win on Sunday against the Hawks took control briefly in the first period, when Joey Fodstad’s shot was kicked out front for a weak-side rebound and a finish from Cole Gibson just 4:25 into the contest.
At the 9:45 mark, the Bulls struck back on a shot from Gavin Wendorf (Richfield, Minn./Dauphin Kings) at the left point that tipped off of the stick of Jac Triemert (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in front of the net, beating Shane Soderwall on the back post for the tying tally.
Rochester carried the 15-13 shots-on-goal lead into the second period, but the Bulls quickly turned the tide. Wendorf’s shot from the left point at the 4:37 mark went to the back of the net untouched, and North Iowa took the lead for the first time.
Penalties were few and far between in Monday’s matchup, but the first penalty of the day was a costly one for the Grizzlies. Just 10 seconds after a slashing call against Joey Fodstad at 6:14 of the second, Brendan Sloth (Anoka, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) whipped a shot toward the net from the right point that pinballed in front for Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) to put away for his first and only goal of the tournament, and a 3-1 North Iowa lead.
Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) set up the next Bulls goal with a tape-to-tape pass to Max Savaloja (Eau Claire, Wis./Memorial H.S.) down the right wing, and Soderwall came out in front of the net to challenge Savaloja’s bouncing shot. The long rebound hopped out in front of the net, though, and Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) pounced on the change with Soderwall out of the cage, tossing home his second goal of the weekend with just 1:54 remaining.
Up 27 shots to 24 entering the third period, the Bulls successfully defended their lead through the third period, with the teams trading unsuccessful power play chances in the final 20 minutes. Only Carter Newpower’s (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.) goal with 1:47 remaining, walking the puck into an empty Grizzlies net off of an overthrown pass to the point in the offensive zone, changed the scoring on the way to North Iowa’s momentous victory.
“That was a really good feeling, personally for me,” said Newpower. “It just put the game away. We knew we won it from there, and we just needed to finish it up.”
Wendorf and Triemert finished with the biggest showings of the day, notching a goal and an assist apiece, while Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) allowed a single goal for the fifth game in a row, making 31 saves for the Bulls’ national championship clincher. Soderwall closed his 2020-21 campaign with 32 saves.
The victory gives the Bulls a 35th win through the regular season and postseason, including eight in the Fraser Cup playoffs and championship tournament. Rochester earned 41 total wins, holding off the Peoria Mustangs to win both the Central Division regular-season and playoff championship.
Stokes landed the Fraser Cup Tournament’s MVP award, making 115 saves on the 119 shots he saw throughout the four games. Newpower wrapped up with seven points to top the scoring for the Bulls and earn a spot on the All-Tournament team, along with Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) with six points for the weekend, and Wendorf with four points. Matt DeRosa, Blake Arneson and Joey Fodstad earned All-Tournament nods for Rochester.
The championship closes the book on a 10-year run for the Bulls that has seen nine NA3HL attendance titles and eight division titles prior to the team’s move to the North American Hockey League next season. The organization will field an NA3HL entry next season, though the exact location, brand, coaching staff and other details remain to be finalized and will be announced as soon as possible.
2021-22 season tickets are on sale now as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League. Updated news and information on the Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season and Fraser Cup tournament run are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 3 1 – 5
Rochester 1 0 0 – 1
1st Period-1, Rochester, Gibson 1 (Fodstad, DeRosa), 4:25. 2, North Iowa, Triemert 3 (Wendorf, Jones), 9:45. Penalties-No Penalties
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Wendorf 1 (Nauss, Triemert), 4:37. 4, North Iowa, Freeman 1 (Campion, Sloth), 6:24 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Jorgenson 2 (Savaloja, Cichosz), 18:06. Penalties-Fodstad Roc (slashing-minor), 6:14; Wilmes Roc (roughing-minor), 6:37.
3rd Period-6, North Iowa, Newpower 2 18:13 (EN). Penalties-Jones Nio (head contact-minor), 5:37; Malugani Roc (slashing-minor), 13:40.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 13-14-10-37. Rochester 15-9-8-32.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 0; Rochester 0 / 0.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes (32 shots-31 saves). Rochester, Soderwall (36 shots-32 saves).
Referees-Chazz Knoche, Jack Young.
Linesmen-Grant Crowell, Michael Ifkovits.