MASON CITY, Iowa – 2019-20 will forever be known as the year of “Hockey Heads Downtown” in Mason City, but the Bulls made sure that it also was the year that the NA3HL’s West Division crown headed back to the River City.
North Iowa used three first-period goals to slingshot past the Peoria Mustangs by a 4-2 count on Saturday night, locking up the division championship in front of a record crowd of 2,140 fans at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. The game was the second sellout crowd in Mason City Arena history, besting the 2,058 that the Bulls drew in their opening game downtown on January 3. 2,044 seats are available in the building, plus standing room to push the arena’s capacity to 2,200.
The game featured plenty of odd moments, starting with the first goal of the night at 3:40. Callahan Nauss’s (Wayzata, Minn./Wayzata H.S.) point shot from the left wing hit the back bar of the goal square, bouncing out at full speed. The goal light did not turn on, but eagle-eyed referee Hunter Mottinger noticed the bounce and blew his whistle, immediately signaling the goal.
Mottinger was injured just 23 seconds later, leaving the game after a collision in the Peoria end of the rink. He would not return, leaving linesmen Calvin Stace Alvarado and Grant Crowell to tag-team on officiating for the remainder of the first period.
The next North Iowa goal was scored in a far more conventional fashion – just 33 seconds into a tripping minor against Atticus Helfer, a pass from Lucas Wahlin (Woodbury, Minn./Hill-Murray H.S.) at the left corner caught Matt Dahlseide (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in front of the net, and his extra drag toward the post helped him tuck the puck into the net for a 2-0 lead.
The lead hit 3-0 with 3:50 left in the period, when Jordan Roo’s (Champlin, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) pass from the left-wing circle set up Carter Eha (Bloomington, Minn./Jamestown Rebels) for the quick tap in front.
However, Peoria would set to work on a comeback, and it came off the stick of Ryan Payne with a pair of power play markers. Nick Bowlin (Woodbury, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) landed in the penalty box with 1:08 left in the first period thanks to a kneeing call, and with 44.1 seconds remaining in the first period, Payne snapped one past Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./Blaine H.S.) from the left half to give the Mustangs their first goal of the game and cut the lead to 3-1.
The second goal was a far closer shave – with a holding call against Dalton Saltness (Forest Lake, Minn./Forest Lake H.S.) sending the Mustangs back on the power play at 19:45 of the second, a one-timer from Payne at the right dot beat both Daninger and the second-period horn. The puck would cross the line less than 1/15th of a second before the clock hit zero, locking out the goal judge but putting the Mustangs within one heading to the locker room.
The second and third periods were also played with a pair of new faces in stripes – Mason City native Johnathan Morrison, already in attendance at the game, stepped onto the ice as referee, and Crowell switched into a referee jersey of his own. Chris Marshall, who had previously worked the Mason City Mohawks’ high school doubleheader Saturday afternoon, offered his services as a linesman as well, giving the Bulls and Mustangs their second-ever four-man officiating crew in a regular-season contest.
The final goal of the night came early in the third, with Sota Isogai (Nagano, Japan/Okanagan U20) sneaking one in past the blocker pad of Jaden Gardner, and pushing the lead to 4-2 less than two minutes into the final period.
The momentous occasion even got its own exclamation mark with 12:05 remaining, with another kneeing call pending against Bowlin. As Ian McHenry confronted Bowlin ahead of the upcoming whistle, the two dropped the gloves and enjoyed a rousing row, with Bowlin gaining the upper hand with several left-handed uppercuts at the end.
Daninger finished the night with 14 saves to earn his 10th win of the year. One night after going 8-for-8 in relief of Cole Walter, Gardner took the loss with 31 saves on 35 North Iowa shots. The Mustangs power play finished 2-for-4, while the Bulls converted on just one of their six chances.
North Iowa hosts its final home game of the 2019-20 regular season on Sunday evening, with a 6:30 p.m. start against the Willmar WarHawks. Sunday’s game is Fan Appreciation Night, with free admission for kids, $3.00 draws for adults, a pregame poster giveaway to the first 500 fans in the door, and a postgame skate with on-ice autographs from the Bulls players. Live streaming coverage of Sunday’s game is available on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on North Iowa Bulls hockey is always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. To purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here.
Peoria 1 1 0 – 2
North Iowa 3 0 1 – 4
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Nauss 3 (Petronack, Bowlin), 3:40. 2, North Iowa, Dahlseide 22 (Wahlin, Daly), 12:45 (PP). 3, North Iowa, Eha 10 (Roo, Sullivan), 16:10. 4, Peoria, Payne 7 (Bentley), 19:16 (PP). Penalties-Eddington Peo (cross checking-minor), 10:21; Helfer Peo (tripping-minor), 12:12; Bowlin Nio (kneeing-minor), 18:52.
2nd Period-5, Peoria, Payne 8 (Eddington, Giese), 19:59 (PP). Penalties-served by Bland Peo (too many men-minor), 1:12; Stewart Nio (slashing-minor), 7:22; Bennett Peo (slashing-minor), 12:16; Bland Peo (slashing-minor), 13:10; Saltness Nio (holding-minor), 19:45.
3rd Period-6, North Iowa, Isogai 20 (Fagerlee), 1:54. Penalties-McHenry Peo (fighting-major, fighting-ej), 7:55; Bowlin Nio (kneeing-minor, fighting-major, fighting-ej), 7:55; Pinto Peo (high sticking-minor), 10:28; Fagerlee Nio (unsportsmanlike conduct-minor), 10:28; Bihun Peo (tripping-minor), 15:40; Hichborn Peo (roughing-minor), 19:56; Eha Nio (roughing-minor), 19:56.
Shots on Goal-Peoria 6-5-5-16. North Iowa 12-9-14-35.
Power Play Opportunities-Peoria 2 / 4; North Iowa 1 / 6.
Goalies-Peoria, Gardner 11-9-1-0 (35 shots-31 saves). North Iowa, Daninger 10-2-0-0 (16 shots-14 saves).
Referees-J. Morrison, Grant Crowell.
Linesmen-Chris Marshall, Calvin Stace Alvarado.