|September 14, 2022 – 5:00 p.m.
September 15, 2022 – 2:15 p.m.
September 16, 2022 – 7:30 p.m.
September 17, 2022 – 3:00 p.m.National Sports Center Super Rink
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|WEDNESDAY: vs. WISCONSIN WINDIGO || ROSTER | STATS || LIVE STATS | NOTES|
|THURSDAY: vs. SHREVEPORT || ROSTER | STATS || LIVE STATS | NOTES|
|FRIDAY: vs. ODESSA || ROSTER | STATS || LIVE STATS | NOTES|
|SATURDAY: vs. JANESVILLE || ROSTER | STATS || LIVE STATS | NOTES|
THE SCENE-SETTER: The season opens with Wednesday’s contest after an outstanding preseason for the Bulls – North Iowa battled Corpus Christi to a 4-2 loss and a 1-0 win in a pair of mini-games in Mason City last Wednesday, starting with a goal from Byron Hartley just 28 seconds into the opening contest of the night. Cameron Crolley and Oliver Stumpel’s two goals broke a 2-2 tie to seal a win in the first mini-game, but Casey Roepke’s shot from the right point clipped Hunter Bulger on its way to the net to take care of the offense in the nightcap. North Iowa swept the Aberdeen Wings, 4-1 and 2-1 last Friday and Saturday to cap the preseason, with Max Scott opening the offense for the Bulls in both games. His shot from the left-wing faceoff dot in the second period touched off a four-goal run in Friday’s game, while his goal with 1:58 left in Saturday’s game tied the contest at 1-1 before Cayden Casey broke free in overtime to score the winner at the 48-second mark.
GETTING AN EARLY JUMP ON THINGS: Max Scott has gotten off to a roaring start to the season, thanks to a big week against Corpus Christi and Aberdeen. Scott posted assists on both goals in North Iowa’s first mini-game against Corpus Christi, including a power play assist on a goal from Justin Mexico. His goals in Friday and Saturday’s games got the scoring started for North Iowa, banking in a pass off of his skates for a crucial tying goal with less than two minutes left in regulation Saturday. The win was – unofficial or not – the Bulls’ first triumph in overtime against Aberdeen after six extra-session losses to the Wings last year.
BACK TO BUSINESS: After having one of the NAHL’s youngest rosters last season, this year’s group expects to be a more experienced one. 12 Bulls return from last year’s team, with Byron Hartley’s 37 points making him the top scorer back after the departure of the team’s top three scorers from a year ago. Three of the top Mason City Toros from last year have also moved up, including goaltender Erik Chaffe, who combined with Mitchell Day to stop 65 of the 68 shots they saw during preseason play.
KNOW YOUR FOE: THE WINDIGO: It’s a brand-new era for the Bulls’ opening-night opponent, as the Wisconsin Windigo make their first official appearance on the NAHL ice. The Windigo took sixth-place in an eight-team Midwest Division race last year as the Minnesota Magicians before moving to the northern Wisconsin community of Eagle River over the offseason. Blake Hietala comes to the team after a four-year run as an assistant coach with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, and takes over a team with 10 returning players from last year’s Magicians roster.
YOU’RE BUGGING ME: This Shreveport team is a perennial Robertson Cup contender representing the South Division. Thursday’s game will pit the Bulls against a Mudbugs team that finished in fourth place in the South last season – Shreveport has never missed the Robertson Cup playoffs in their six-year history, including clinching a playoff spot before the COVID-related cancellation of the 2020 postseason. A dozen Mudbugs are back from last year’s team, and it’ll be a case of “next man in” at the top of the line chart, with all five top scorers departing from last season.
GET JACKED: North Iowa hits the ice in prime time on Friday, squaring off with another South Division foe in the Odessa Jackalopes. Second-year coach Scott Deur will look to guide this year’s “Jacks” back to the Robertson Cup playoffs for the first time since 2018, finishing in fifth place last season. This group also has 12 returners, and the Jackalopes may have reloaded the right group to do it, with four of the top six scorers coming back. It’ll be a clean slate in net as Odessa looks to recapture a South Division playoff spot at the end of the season.
TOP GUNS: Another perennial NAHL powerhouse awaits in the final game of the weekend Saturday afternoon, as North Iowa squares off with the Janesville Jets. Last season, the Jets came up just three points out of the final playoff spot in the Midwest Division, in a season where the top five teams were separated by just eight points. Janesville has made the playoffs in all but two seasons in its history, and will be eager to make its return to the top under Joe Dibble, who returns to the bench following Parker Burgess’s move to the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL. Dibble won 181 games over five seasons as head coach from 2012 to 2017, and returned to serve as the team’s general manager in 2019. The cupboard isn’t exactly bare – the top defensive scorer on last year’s team, 42-point scorer Will Troutwine returns to headline a list of eight returning Jets.
A CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND: While Wisconsin’s head coach is new to the organization, the Windigo retained assistant coach Casey Kirley from last year’s coaching staff in Richfield – Kirley has close ties to the North Iowa organization, spending two years on the Bulls’ staff as an assistant coach in 2015-16 and adding the assistant general manager’s title in 2016-17. North Iowa reached the Fraser Cup tournament both years, winning the league championship in 2016. He would spend two years after leaving the Bulls with the Shreveport Mudbugs – North Iowa’s second-day opponent in Blaine – and helped lead them to an NAHL Robertson Cup title in 2018.