ATTLEBORO, Mass. – The NA3HL’s annual Top Prospects event is meant to showcase the best and brightest stars the league has to offer each season. This time around, the West Division made it plain that it is at least “a step above the rest.” Several North Iowa Bulls players made key contributions in the West’s 3-0 run at Top Prospects, outscoring their opponents by a total of 23-3. After the South Division’s loss to the Central on Tuesday morning, the West finished as the only undefeated team in the showcase.
Monday morning’s 6-2 win over the Coastal Division turned out to be the warmup test for the West, with the Northeast Generals’ Carson Asper getting the Coastal group on the board just 35 seconds into the showcase. A goal from Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.) helped to turn the tide with 43 seconds to go in the first period, and his second goal at 3:03 of the second helped the West gather a 3-1 lead going to the third.
Connor Barter’s goal at 5:21 of the third was a mere hiccup, as the West scored three more times on the way to its victory. Wahlin finished with his two goals, plus an assist on Sota Isogai’s (Nagano, Japan/Okanagan U20) empty-net marker with 22 seconds remaining.
Callahan Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./Wayzata H.S.) notched an assist on a go-ahead goal from the Willmar WarHawks’ Brandon Holt just 2:28 into the second period. Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) finished the game in relief of Willmar goaltender Lukas Haugen, making 11 saves on 12 Coastal shots.
The West kicked it into high gear with its Monday afternoon game against the Central Division, with a 9-0 victory. The action started with a goal from Granite City’s Ryan Pogue at the three-minute mark of the game, and the Bulls got involved with Wahlin’s assist on a goal from Alexandria’s Derek Dropik just five-and-a-half minutes later.
The machine hit full speed during the second period, with six goals from the West. Three came from Bulls players – Nauss at 8:16, Isogai at 12:31 and Wahlin with 51 seconds remaining. Wahlin ended the game with a goal and three assists, and Nauss and Isogai finished with a goal apiece. Babekuhl earned the win thanks to a perfect 19-for-19 start in net.
The West Division routed the best from the Frontier Division as well, cruising to an 8-1 win on Tuesday morning. The teams hopped onto the ice at just 8 a.m. Eastern time, and the Frontier woke up the scoreboard operator first with a goal from Sheridan’s Logan Syrup at 14:03 of the first period.
Holt’s second goal of the tournament at the six-minute mark of the second proved that the West was up and at ’em as well, and back-to-back goals from Wahlin before the intermission helped to put the Frontier’s chances back to sleep. Isogai’s goal with 4:45 remaining capped a five-goal flurry for the victors in the third period.
Babekuhl earned the win in relief, with a perfect 11-for-11 outing and seven of the eight West Division goals scored on his watch. Wahlin ended the final game with two goals and an assist, while Isogai posted the game’s final goal and Nauss added an assist on a goal from Holt early in the third.
All told, Wahlin motored to the top spot in the event with 10 points, including five goals. No other player in the showcase posted more than six, and that player was Garrett Freeman from the Breezy Point North Stars. Isogai finished with three goals, and Nauss added a goal and two assists. Babekuhl was the tournament’s top goaltender, with a 0.67 goals-against average and just one goal allowed on 42 shots.
Also on the West roster were Sean Sullivan (Middleton, Wis./Madison Capitols 18U), who did not register a point in the showcase, and Justin Daly (Delano, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears), who did not appear in a game. Jack Kubitz (Orono, Minn./Orono H.S.) helped to fill out the four-team Northeast Division’s roster, but also did not post a point.
Bulls head coach Todd Sanden served as the head coach for the West Division squad, serving as a Top Prospects coach for the ninth consecutive season.
North Iowa returns to action next Tuesday, with a road trip to Willmar to face the WarHawks in a make-up contest from prior to Thanksgiving. The opening puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
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 any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here.