MASON CITY, Iowa – Coming up north from the North American Hockey League, Aaron Swanson (Sun Prairie, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) had a few challenges to overcome in his first three weeks with North Iowa – new surroundings….new teammates….even an injury or two.
The first-year junior forward made his presence at the Tier III level known on Saturday night, pounding in North Iowa’s first goal in a 4-3 overtime win over the New Ulm Steel, that also served as a milestone victory for Bulls goalie Colin Cain (Hummelstown, Pa./N.J. Junior Titans).
With Brendan Studioso’s (Mukilteo, Wash./North Iowa Bulls) back-side one-timer at the 3:42 mark of overtime, Cain became the third Bulls goalie to reach 25 wins in a single season. His 26th win would break the team’s five-year-old franchise record.
Unfortunately, Swanson’s first penalty with the Bulls would open the door for New Ulm to take an early lead – a slashing minor just four minutes into the game put the Steel on the power play for the first time. Sam Storlie’s blast from the left wing near the hash-marks beat Cain for an early 1-0 lead.
The second period belonged to the home team, though – the Bulls got 18 shots in the middle stanza, and Swanson more than redeemed himself with his first North Iowa goal, itself after a slashing penalty. This time, Hunter Johnson was the guilty party, and Swanson’s one-timer just 39 seconds into the second period leveled the game at 1-1.
“I felt like I did well on the stat sheet,” said Swanson. “I could have given a little more than that. Hopefully I can get back into shape and we’ll see.”
The Bulls bookended the period with a couple of lamp-lighters, the latter coming from Jarod Blackowiak (Eden Prairie, Minn./Austin Bruins) on a one-timer set up by Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./Oshkosh H.S.) with 52 seconds remaining before the intermission.
Alex Nagel tied the game with a fadeaway shot on the left wing at 5:08 of the third period, but Lucas McKinnon (Chapin, Iowa/North Iowa Bulls) tallied his second goal of the year with 6:33 remaining on a nifty dangle in front of the New Ulm net, taking the lead back at 3-2.
With two minutes left, Steel coach Andrew Kolb used his timeout and brought goaltender Ryan Kenny to the bench for an extra attacker – that decision would pay off big-time with 54 seconds remaining, following Jarrett Cammarata’s shot from the left faceoff circle. Nicklas Wieben was waiting on the back side of the play, tipping the puck in amid a crowd of bodies to square the game heading to overtime.
The final 3:42, though, was all North Iowa – eight of the nine shots on net in the extra session belonged to the Bulls, and Mitch Dolter’s (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) pass from the left-wing wall found Studioso on the back edge of the slot for the one-timer and the game-winner.
Each team was able to pick up a power-play goal in the contest, finishing 1-for-4 on the man-advantage. Swanson, who scored the 5-on-4 goal for the hosts, said he still felt he could have had a better start to his North Iowa career.
“It’s been a hard transition (from Amarillo),” said Swanson. “The guys here have been good, and I feel like I fit in pretty well. It’s been nice. It was good to get out there and get a win.”
North Iowa now stands within one win of sealing its sixth consecutive division championship, and that win could come against the only team threatening them in the Central Division standings. The La Crosse Freeze head to “The Barn” on Friday and Saturday night for their final regular-season meetings of 2017-18. The opening faceoff in those games are scheduled for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV.
Seven North Iowa players, as well as head coach Todd Sanden and assistant coach Kevin Murdock, will also make the trip to Plymouth, Michigan this week for the NA3HL’s Top Prospects showcase. Each team in the tournament will play two games on Tuesday and another on Wednesday at the USA Hockey Arena, the home of the U.S. National Team Development Program.
For advance tickets to Friday and Saturday night’s games in Mason City, or any future North Iowa Bulls home games, click here.