FAIRBANKS, Alaska – Before this season, North Iowa Bulls forward Sota Isogai had never played for a team in the Western Hemisphere. A stint in Russia and two years with the Okanagan junior program in Austria helped the Japanese native develop his game before showcasing it in the NA3HL, and he’ll have a chance to showcase it further next year after signing a tender with the North American Hockey League’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Isogai is one of four North Iowa Bulls players to sign a tender in the month of March, with more to be announced. Nearly 50 North Iowa players have suited up for NAHL teams after playing for the Bulls.
His first weekend as a Bull in late September was an uneventful one, going without a point in two games against defending West Division champion Granite City. After that, though, Isogai hit the gas and hardly slowed down. He notched a goal and an assist in the Bulls’ home opener against Willmar, and posted his first hat trick a week later.
In all, Isogai’s first season of American junior hockey ended with 38 points in 43 games, including 22 goals and five multi-goal games. He was also selected to the NA3HL’s Top Prospects event last month, notching three goals on the way to the West’s 3-0 finish.
“Sota is a super-dynamic young player,” said North Iowa head coach Todd Sanden. “Had we not been so old this year, he would have been much higher in our lineup consistently. He was at the top of our lineup at the end of the season, and you like to see your young players elevate (their game) throughout the season. It didn’t matter who we played him with, he was productive and he’s going to be a good player for Fairbanks to mold. He still has growth left in his game.”
Isogai’s tender signing with the Ice Dogs means that his NAHL playing rights now belong to Fairbanks, and he cannot be selected in the NAHL Draft this June. After battling in-state rival Kenai River for much of the first half of the season, a hot streak helped push the Ice Dogs to a runaway Midwest Division championship. As of the cancellation of the NAHL’s remaining schedule on Tuesday, Fairbanks was the only team in the division to clinch a Robertson Cup playoff berth.
The North Iowa Bulls congratulate Sota Isogai on his tender signing with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, and wish him the best as he takes the next step in his junior hockey career.