BLAINE, Minn. – The North Iowa Bulls can say they were winners in the North American Hockey League from day one.
Logan Dombrowsky (Stevens Point, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) got the scoring started for North Iowa halfway through the first period, and a sharp Bulls team opened the NAHL Showcase with a 5-1 win over the Minnesota Wilderness, who had played the previous five seasons in the NAHL’s Central Division before moving back to the Midwest this season. The win also means a successful start to the Bulls’ second decade on the ice, after spending the first 10 years in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League.
The Bulls racked up the shots in the first period, but finally broke through at the 10:01 mark when Dombrowsky drilled his target in the upper left of the net off of a feed from Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls) below the goal line for a 1-0 lead.
North Iowa pivoted the momentum of the game around the first intermission, with Michael Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U AAA) snuck his shot from the right wing under the crossbar to beat Jacob Zacharewicz with just nine seconds left in the first. Just 20 seconds out of the break, Ryan Coughlin (Charlotte, N.C./Amarillo Bulls) took a pass in the slot from Michael Mesic and made the extra move to snap one past Zacharewicz for a 3-0 lead.
The offenses went silent until the 8:12 mark of the third period, when Coughlin’s tripping minor opened the door for the Wilderness to strike. Unsuccessful on their first two power plays, Aaron Pionk’s shot from the top of the zone with eight seconds left on Minnesota’s third power play clipped Charlie Erickson on the way by, and beat Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to trim the lead back to 3-1.
Hunter Young’s hooking minor at 10:30 of the third gave the Bulls power play a chance of its own – just 26 seconds into the man-advantage, Jack Mesic (Plymouth, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) threw one past a well-screened Zacharewicz, who had two bodies in front of him, to build the lead back to three goals.
North Iowa capped the game with an exclamation mark at 18:09, when Greg Japchen (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) snapped one in from the left point following a faceoff in the Minnesota end of the rink, giving the Bulls their final lead of the day.
“We played great,” said Dombrowsky. “The intensity was high, and the goaltending was great – [Carsen] Stokes played great, he just didn’t get the shutout. We just came out hard and played fast the whole game.”
Each team capitalized on the power play in Wednesday morning’s game, with North Iowa opening up the NAHL Showcase witgh a 1-for-4 power play mark and the Wilderness finishing the day at 1-for-6. Mesic and Coughlin each finished the day with a goal and two assists, while Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) closed out the season opener with three assists of his own.
Zacharewicz made 26 saves in the loss for the Wilderness, while Stokes stopped 23 of the 24 Minnesota shots he faced, earning his first career NAHL win.
The Bulls will look to make it a 2-0 start to the season when they square off with the Jamestown Rebels of the league’s East Division on Thursday afternoon. Jamestown plays in one of the final games on the Showcase’s opening day, when they face the Springfield Jr. Blues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday’s opening puck drop between the Bulls and Rebels at the National Sports Center Super Rink is slated for 4:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and Mixlr.
Single-game tickets are on sale now for all upcoming North Iowa Bulls home games – 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.
North Iowa 2 1 2 – 5
MN Wilderness 0 0 1 – 1
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Dombrowsky 1 (Rapalje, Carroll), 10:01. 2, North Iowa, Mesic 1 (Scott, Coughlin), 19:51. Penalties-Erickson Mnw (slashing-minor), 5:36; Helgeson Nio (holding-minor), 16:43.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Coughlin 1 (Mesic, Scott), 0:20. Penalties-Mesic Nio (high sticking-double minor), 6:43; Kennelly Mnw (tripping-minor), 12:29.
3rd Period-4, MN Wilderness, Erickson 1 (Pionk, Persson), 8:12 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Mesic 1 (Boxer, Scott), 10:56 (PP). 6, North Iowa, Japchen 1 (Mesic, Coughlin), 18:09. Penalties-Wolthers Mnw (boarding-minor), 0:27; Coughlin Nio (tripping-minor), 6:20; Young Mnw (hooking-minor), 10:30; Japchen Nio (cross checking-minor), 14:37; Scott Nio (tripping-minor), 15:55; Hartley Nio (tripping-minor), 19:57.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 11-9-11-31. MN Wilderness 8-8-8-24.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 4; MN Wilderness 1 / 6.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes 1-0-0-0 (24 shots-23 saves). MN Wilderness, Zacharewicz 0-1-0-0 (31 shots-26 saves).