MASON CITY, Iowa – Valentine’s Day is a day dedicated to heart.
And it takes a certain amount of heart to finish strong in a stretch of four games in five days.
The North Iowa Bulls closed their busiest week of the regular season with a ton of that heart, but saw a number of impressive streaks come to an end in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Willmar WarHawks on Sunday night at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena.
The streaks include some big ones – a second-chance goal from Alex Kupka 2:26 into the extra session ended an 18-game home winning streak, the Bulls’ longest since January of 2017. It also ended a run of 18 straight wins against the WarHawks. Willmar snapped an 11-game losing streak to North Iowa in Mason City, earning their first-ever win on the Bulls’ home ice. The loss also marked the team’s first ever on Valentine’s Day, after earning February 14 wins in 2020, 2015 and 2014.
Some streaks remain alive, though, thanks in part to the first goal of the game – a right-point shot from Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) caught Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) for a redirect with 6:35 left in the first period, giving North Iowa the first lead of the night and a power play goal for the third straight game. Jorgenson saw his point streak jump to eight straight games, tying the team’s season-high.
Willmar put away the equalizer with 6:46 left in the second period, with a right-point shot from Gavin Uckele missed off the end boards and Dylan Gajewski snuck the stick-side rebound past Max Gutjahr (Appleton, Wis./Amarillo Bulls).
The Bulls were unmoved, to say the least – just 37 seconds later, Hutson Collins (Eau Claire, Wis./New Ulm Steel) won a faceoff to the left of Will Pinney, sliding the puck back to Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.), who fired it past Pinney to take the lead back.
Try as they might, North Iowa was never able to extend the lead – the WarHawks took advantage of a delayed penalty call against Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars), with Kupka rattling one home over Gutjahr’s shoulder with 5:55 to play.
North Iowa got one shot on net in the 3-on-3 overtime, but the WarHawks’ third one was the charm – Hunter Bjorge’s shot from the left wing failed to get past Gutjahr, but Kupka found himself in the right place at the right time to poke home the rebound and limit the Bulls to the bonus point.
Gutjahr made 35 saves, falling to 2-0-1 on the season, while Pinney made 35 saves of his own for his fourth win of the season and third straight. The Bulls tallied on just one of their seven power plays, but the penalty-killing unit enjoyed a perfect night, wiping out both of the WarHawks’ power play chances.
“We had some good points in the [offensive] zone,” said Jorgenson. “I think we had a couple of unlucky bounces, but we’ll see them again on Friday and we’ll get them back then.”
Fortunately for North Iowa, they won’t have to wait long for a rematch, and they’ll get their shot at revenge on the WarHawks’ home ice. That chance comes on Friday night, with the opening puck drop scheduled for 7:10 p.m. at the Willmar Civic Center, with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
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 platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Willmar 0 1 1 1 – 3
North Iowa 1 1 0 0 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Jorgenson 6 (Nauss, Jones), 13:28 (PP). Penalties-Jozwick Wil (roughing-minor), 1:27; Newpower Nio (high sticking-minor), 6:56; Mock Wil (holding-minor), 12:25; Jozwick Wil (tripping-minor), 17:59; Bjorge Wil (holding-minor), 19:45.
2nd Period-2, Willmar, Gajewski 4 (Uckele, Thomas), 13:15. 3, North Iowa, Heffron 7 (Collins), 13:51. Penalties-Johnson Wil (tripping-minor), 6:56; Savaloja Nio (kneeing-minor), 16:03.
3rd Period-4, Willmar, Kupka 8 (Rowan, Thomas), 14:05. Penalties-Rowan Wil (roughing-minor), 11:26; Freeman Nio (slashing-minor), 14:05; Rowan Wil (tripping-minor), 15:06.
OT Period-5, Willmar, Kupka 9 (Bjorge, Wigestrand), 2:24. Penalties-No Penalties
Shots on Goal-Willmar 13-10-12-3-38. North Iowa 13-12-11-1-37.
Power Play Opportunities-Willmar 0 / 3; North Iowa 1 / 7.
Goalies-Willmar, Pinney 4-1-0-0 (37 shots-35 saves). North Iowa, Gutjahr 2-0-1-0 (38 shots-35 saves).
Linesmen-Bryan Gorcoff, Calvin Stace Alvarado.