September 15, 2021 – 11:00 a.m.
National Sports Center Super Rink – Blaine, MN
MINNESOTA WILDERNESS (0-0-0)
vs. NORTH IOWA BULLS (0-0-0-0)
ATTENDING THE GAME: MAP TO ARENA
LIVE STATS: CLICK HERE
BULLS vs. WILDERNESS ALL-TIME: 0-0-0
IN A NUTSHELL: North Iowa opens a brand-new era of junior hockey with its first-ever NAHL game.
LAST TIME OUT: The Bulls wrapped up preseason play at 1-1-1, taking a 7-3 loss to Shattuck-St. Mary’s last Wednesday evening before blitzing the Aberdeen Wings on Friday by a 7-1 count. The Wings went up 3-0 after one period on Saturday, with Kyle Gaffney getting the scoring started just ahead of the game’s eight-minute mark, and Aberdeen left the first period with a 19-7 shots-on-goal advantage. Cullen DeYoung entered the net, and the Bulls began their climb back, starting with Byron Hartley’s pocket-picking breakaway on the penalty kill just 3:40 out of the break. Owen DuBois buried a rebound at 14:34 of the period, but Michael Mesic answered with a second-chance tally of his own on the power play with just 11 seconds left in the second period. Hunter Bulger scored twice to erase the lead in the third period – including the game-tying marker with 10:04 remaining – but Landry Schmuck beat DeYoung on an odd-man rush with the only shot of overtime to seal a 5-4 win for the Wings. Mesic co-headlined the offensive effort for the Bulls alongside Bulger, notching a goal and two assists.
NEXT HOME GAME: North Iowa opens its 2021-22 home schedule on Friday, September 24 against Aberdeen. That game kicks off the Bulls’ “1 Town, 2 Teams, 3 Days, 4 Games” weekend alongside the new Mason City Toros, with free schedule posters to be given away at Friday’s game.
NEW BEGINNINGS: Today’s game is a historic one for the Bulls – it’s the first NAHL game for a Mason City-based team since March 27, 2010 – that game saw the North Iowa Outlaws fall to the Alexandria Blizzard 4-2 at the Runestone Community Center to wrap up a 15-37-6 season, with Nick Booth scoring the final goal in Outlaws history. The team moved to the La Crosse, Wisconsin area the following year, and became the Chippewa Steel after another move in 2019 – assistant coach Todd Sanden would remain with the Coulee Region Chill for their first year before returning to helm the brand-new North Iowa Bulls.
HISTORY REPEATS: The second decade of North Iowa Bulls hockey will begin in exactly the same fashion it did in 2011 – with a four-game jaunt to a Showcase event in Blaine, Minnesota. This Bulls group, however, would prefer a little better start to its second decade on the ice – that team dropped its first five before earning its first win on October 2. The 2011-12 Bulls found a groove, winning 29 of their 48 games in their opening season.
WILD ‘N’ OUT: Last year’s Minnesota Wilderness team finished just under .500, going 25-27-1-3 in a 56-game schedule (though the Midwest Division played only 48 games, the NAHL schedule across the board was the shortest since the 2004-05 season, when 54 games was the standard). Though the Wilderness finished in third place, it was lackluster by the team’s typical standards – this year’s Minnesota team will be chasing its seventh winning record in a nine-year run in the NAHL (plus seven straight years in the Superior International Junior Hockey League and Minnesota Junior Hockey League before that).
YOU AGAIN: Longtime junior hockey fans in North Iowa will recognize a familiar face behind the bench for the Bulls’ opponent in this one – Wilderness head coach Dave Boitz served as the first head coach in North Iowa Outlaws history, from 2005 to 2008, winning a Central Division championship in the last of those seasons. Boitz became the head coach of the NAHL’s Alaska Avalanche the following season, and has been in the Wilderness front office since 2013.
I WANNA BE LIKE MIKE: Michael Mesic came out of North Iowa’s brief preseason run as the team’s top scorer, cranking out a goal and four assists over three appearances. He notched two assists in last Friday’s win over the Aberdeen Wings, and piled up a goal and an assist in Saturday’s overtime loss.