BREEZY POINT, Minn. – When the North American Hockey League’s Kenai River Brown Bears signed North Iowa Bulls defenseman Caleb Huffman to an NAHL tender in November, they knew it wouldn’t be long before they saw him again. With an open roster spot for Saturday’s game against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock made the call.
Huffman made his NAHL debut on Saturday night, earning a spot in the lineup in a 4-2 loss to the Ice Dogs. The Anchorage, Alaska native did not factor into the scoring in the contest, his first time on the ice with the Brown Bears since attending their tryout camp this past October.
“They were banged up with some injuries and suspensions, so that gave Caleb a chance as a tender of theirs to jump in as an affiliate player,” said North Iowa head coach & general manager Todd Sanden. “That’s always the goal of our program, to move players up as often as we can, as early as we can and whenever we can. We would have loved to have had Caleb’s services in the game on Saturday against Granite City, but this is a developmental level and that’s the right thing to do.”
He has long been on the Brown Bears’ radar, earning the team’s 10th-round draft pick last summer and signing North Iowa’s earliest NAHL tender ever for any one season shortly after tender signings opened up on November 1.
Huffman’s move back to the Brown Bears also marks another example of the NAHL’s “Ladder of Development” at work, after his three years in the North American Prospects Hockey League. He not only spent two years in the NAPHL with his Meijer AAA squad, but also played on the Alaska Oilers’ 15-and-under NAPHL squad. 27 NA3HL players signed tenders with NAHL teams last season, with North Iowa players inking five of those.
With the call-up to Kenai River, Huffman also joined former North Iowa Bulls star Lucas Wahlin, who scored a game-tying goal on the power play late in the second period. Former Bulls defenseman Evan Junker was on the other side of the box score, but did not register a point for Fairbanks in the contest. His NAHL debut places him among nearly 50 North Iowa players who have gone on to play at the Tier II level following a stint in a Bulls uniform. Nine of those players have gone on to NCAA Division I rosters.
Huffman will likely play an important role in North Iowa’s chase for an eighth division championship in 10 years, as the race against the Granite City Lumberjacks for the 2020-21 West Division crown comes down to the final weekend.
Friday and Saturday’s contests at Granite City are North Iowa’s final regular-season matchups of the year, with the puck set to drop both nights at 7:30 p.m. at Sports Arena East in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota. Live streaming coverage is available on HockeyTV.
Season tickets for the Bulls’ inaugural 2020-21 season in the North American Hockey League are on sale now. Updated news and information on North Iowa’s 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.