MASON CITY, Iowa – Halloween hit downtown Mason City on Saturday night, and the North Iowa Bulls came dressed for the occasion. The hosts dressed up as bulls in a china shop, mixing it up with the Willmar WarHawks in a physical contest that saw the Bulls pull away in the third period for a 5-2 win to stay in first place in the North American Tier 3 Hockey League’s West Division.
The turning point of the game came near the midway point of the final stanza, with a three-goal push in less than two minutes to turn a 2-1 squeaker into a 5-1 runaway.
Saturday’s start wasn’t quite as monumental as the Bulls’ record eight-goal outburst in the first period, but North Iowa came ready to play, opening the scoring on the rebound at 1:40 with Sota Isogai’s (Nagano, Japan/North Iowa Bulls) backhand toss past Luke Weberg. Willmar’s response came somewhat more quickly than Friday’s, though, when a stretch pass from Owen Thomas found Jack Willis alone in the neutral zone – his breakaway tally snuck under the crossbar and tied the game just 4:04 after the opening puck drop.
North Iowa would switch goaltenders after the first period, after Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) was shoved into the net by Willmar’s Cole Wigestrand after trying to jam in a chance on the doorstep. No penalty was called on the play, but Daninger would leave the game and did not return.
Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) put North Iowa in front for good just 3:07 out of the break, holding off Brady O’Brien all the way to the Willmar net and shoving the puck through Weberg for a 2-1 lead.
The Bulls would start their third-period surge with a rebound goal from Isaac Lindstrom (Chippewa Falls, Wis./Chippewa Falls H.S.) at the 7:26 mark, tossing in a second chance off of an initial try from Dalton Saltness (Forest Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) that was kicked out in front of the net.
Just 25 seconds later, Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) grabbed a loose puck at the top of the right-wing faceoff circle and sniped it past Weberg into the top corner to stretch the lead to 4-1. With 10:38 left, Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) got his chance off of another point chance from Nauss, banging in the rebound to push the lead to 5-1.
“I think the boys are happy,” said Nauss. “They had to battle back and made the game a little closer than we wanted them to. All in all, we’re happy with the end result and we look forward to next week.”
The WarHawks remained undeterred in the final minutes, though – Evan Babekuhl (Long Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) turned away a transition shot from Ethan Light on the right wing, but Wigestrand grabbed the rebound and scooted around the back of the net to stuff in a wraparound with 4:47 remaining and round out the scoring for the night.
Both penalty-killing units were perfect on the evening, with the Bulls coming out 0-for-3 on the power play and Willmar finishing 0-for-4. Babekuhl finished with 12 saves on 13 chances for the win, while Weberg stopped 31 of 36 in the loss. Daninger made nine saves on 10 WarHawk chances in the opening period before exiting at the break.
Nauss had the big night for North Iowa, with a goal and two assists, while Freeman and Cichosz had a goal and an assist apiece to give the Bulls their 16th straight win in the head-to-head series, the longest active North Iowa winning streak against any one team.
North Iowa returns to home ice next Friday for another bout with the WarHawks, their fourth in five games and their third Friday tilt in as many weeks. The Bulls will celebrate their 10th Anniversary with “Decade Of Dominance” Weekend, featuring special 10th Anniversary jerseys and a jersey auction after Saturday’s game. The opening puck drop on Friday night is slated for 7:30 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr. To purchase advance tickets to any upcoming North Iowa Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Willmar 1 0 1 – 2
North Iowa 1 1 3 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Isogai 6 (Freeman, Nauss), 1:41. 2, Willmar, Willis 4 (Thomas), 4:04. Penalties-Mohs-Messerli Nio (slashing-minor), 9:57; Light Wil (checking from behind-minor), 16:23; Nauss Nio (hooking-minor), 17:27.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Cichosz 1 3:07. Penalties-Johnson Wil (interference-minor), 4:10; Nickel Wil (roughing-minor), 12:35; Campion Nio (roughing-minor), 12:35; Sweetland Wil (roughing-double minor), 15:52; Nauss Nio (roughing-double minor), 15:52; Miller Wil (slashing-minor), 16:46; De Schepper Nio (boarding-minor, roughing-minor), 16:46; Eha Nio (checking from behind-minor), 20:00.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Lindstrom 3 (Saltness, Cichosz), 7:26. 5, North Iowa, Nauss 3 7:51. 6, North Iowa, Freeman 4 (Nauss, Bellig), 9:22. 7, Willmar, Wigestrand 1 (Light, Sweetland), 15:13. Penalties-Wigestrand Wil (roughing-minor), 5:05.
Shots on Goal-Willmar 10-4-9-23. North Iowa 12-10-14-36.
Power Play Opportunities-Willmar 0 / 4; North Iowa 0 / 3.
Goalies-Willmar, Weberg 2-2-0-0 (36 shots-31 saves). North Iowa, Daninger 3-0-0-0 (10 shots-9 saves); Babekuhl 4-2-0-0 (13 shots-12 saves).
Linesmen-Ben Gawlik, Reilly Hickey.