MASON CITY, Iowa – Fans at the Mason City Arena on Friday night will get to say they were the first ones to see the North Iowa Bulls in action in the North American Hockey League. The record books will say otherwise in a couple of weeks, but the fans who saw the Bulls square off with the Aberdeen Wings in their preseason bout won’t soon forget what they saw.
Aberdeen controlled the pace early in the contest, but the Bulls gained steam, finishing the game with five unanswered goals in a 7-1 victory. The Bulls fell behind 10 shots to three in the opening 20 minutes, and the Wings were able to build the margin to 13-3 before the hosts gained their footing.
The fourth shot of the night was the first to hit the back of the net, when Max Scott (San Jose, Calif./Amarillo Bulls) began an odd-man rush to the net, finding Ryan Coughlin (Charlotte, N.C./Amarillo Bulls) for a shot that trickled in at the 5:45 mark of the second period.
The score changed quickly at mid-period, going from 1-0 to 3-1 in just 51 seconds. At 7:24 of the period, Greg Japchen’s (Doylestown, Pa./Amarillo Bulls) shot from atop the slot was stopped by Wings goalie Jed Baliotti, but Anthony Galante (Morganville, N.J./Maine Nordiques AAA) was there to finish the second chance and give North Iowa a 2-0 lead.
Just 34 seconds later, Kyle Gaffney fed the puck across the slot to Will Gilson, whose right-wing shot beat Andrew Takacs (Bowie, Md./Amarillo Bulls) to halve the lead. However, the Bulls had their answer just 17 seconds after that, with Coughlin backhanding one past Baliotti to make it a 3-1 lead going to the third.
With the lead in hand, North Iowa made a statement in the third period, starting with Sean Vlasich’s (Hillsdale, N.J./Amarillo Bulls) goal at 1:43. Chris Carroll (Islip, N.Y./Amarillo Bulls) found nothing but open space at the right point, looking for a teammate at the top of the offensive zone after digging the puck off the corner boards. Enter Vlasich, racing off the bench and gaining control of the puck while on the blue line, and immediately snapping a shot into the net for a 4-1 advantage.
A penalty to Jackson Yee a couple of minutes later allowed the Bulls to extend the lead, when Michael Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Honeybaked 16U AAA) pass from the left point caught Scott on the doorstep – the carom ended up three feet high in front of the Aberdeen net, and Coughlin batted it out of mid-air for his third goal and a 5-1 lead.
North Iowa kept its foot on the gas into the game’s final minutes. Jack Mesic’s (Plymouth, Mich./Amarillo Bulls) shot from the right point clipped the crossbar on the way in at 8:51 of the third, and Charlie Tuggey (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Gilmour Academy) tapped in a point-blank chance with help from Justin Mexico (Madison Heights, Mich./Maine Nordiques AAA) with 4:21 remaining to cap the scoring.
“The first period started out with us just feeling each other out, seeing how the other would play,” said Coughlin. “We got into some penalty trouble, which didn’t help us the first period. Being able to kill those off gave us some good momentum that took us into the next period.”
The Bulls got plenty of production up and down the lineup in addition to Coughlin’s hat trick, with Vlasich and Galante also posting a goal and an assist apiece. Japchen, Carter Rapalje (Burlington, Vt./Amarillo Bulls), Scott and Michael Mesic all notched a pair of assists.
Baliotti went the distance in the loss for the Wings, making 22 saves, while Takacs and Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) split the time in the victory. Takacs stopped 17 of the 18 shots he saw in the first 40 minutes to pick up the win, while Stokes was perfect on 11 chances in the third to hold the lead for North Iowa.
The special teams were solid for North Iowa as well, going 6-for-6 on the penalty kill and finishing 1-for-4 on the man-advantage.
The Bulls return to home ice Saturday afternoon to close out the weekend, when North Iowa and Aberdeen do battle for the second of 14 meetings between the preseason and regular season. The opening puck drop at the Mason City Arena is slated for 3 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and Mixlr. Tickets for adults 13 and older are just $5 for Saturday’s game, with kids 12 and under admitted for free.
Single-game tickets for all preseason and regular-season games are now on sale – to purchase advance tickets to any upcoming Bulls home game, call 641-423-4625 or click here. Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ inaugural NAHL season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagramand YouTube.