BLAINE, Minn. – The North Iowa Bulls will spend plenty of time getting familiar with the South and Midwest Divisions of the North American Hockey League when the 2022-23 season officially gets underway next month. The NAHL has announced the schedule for its annual Showcase, slated for September 14-17 at the National Sports Center Super Rink, with the Bulls set to play their first four games of the regular season at that event. The NAHL Showcase, in its 19th season, has become one of the premier events in junior hockey, with all 29 NAHL teams set to hit the ice in one location over a four-day period.
One year after making history with its first official NAHL game at the Showcase, North Iowa will help another team make its debut on opening day, as the Wisconsin Windigo face the Bulls at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14. The Windigo, representing the Midwest Division, come into the season with a new identity after the Minnesota Magicians organization relocated from Richfield, Minnesota during the offseason. It will also serve as a reunion of sorts for Windigo assistant coach Casey Kirley, who served on the North Iowa coaching staff from 2015-17.
The Thursday matchup will feature a matinee battle against the Shreveport Mudbugs, a perennial Robertson Cup contender representing the South Division. That game, which gets underway at 2:15 p.m., 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.
North Iowa hits the ice in prime time on Friday, September 16, squaring off with another South Division foe in the Odessa Jackalopes in a 7:30 p.m. matchup. 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.
Another perennial NAHL powerhouse awaits in the final game of the weekend Saturday afternoon, as North Iowa squares off with the Janesville Jets in a 3 p.m. tilt. 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 third-year head coach Parker Burgess.
All four matchups will be the first in North Iowa history against their respective teams, as the Bulls do not repeat any matchups from the 2021 Showcase. However, this will be the second straight year that the Bulls face three Midwest Division squads after facing the Kenai River Brown Bears and Minnesota Wilderness at last year’s Showcase, and also squaring off with the Springfield Jr. Blues during the regular season. For the first time, North Iowa will not face an East Division team, after facing off with the former Jamestown (now Philadelphia) Rebels during last year’s Showcase.
All four games count in the regular-season standings, completing each team’s 60-game regular-season schedule. The NAHL Showcase attracts a crowd of over 9,000 annually, including more than 330 professional, college and junior scouts who use the event to get their first look at NAHL talent each season.
It will be the second event of the season for the North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL), which will also be played in conjunction with the Showcase. Entering its 14th season in 2022-23, the NAPHL is made up of USA Hockey-sanctioned teams that compete in the 18U, 16U, 15U and 14U levels. NAPHL teams will compete at the NAHL Showcase from Thursday, September 15 to Sunday, September 18.
For more information on the NAHL Showcase, visit http://nahl.com/showcase/.