MASON CITY, Iowa – From the start of North Iowa’s home game against the Wausau RiverWolves on Sunday evening, the visitors were outgunned by the Central Division champs – Josh Arnold (Roseville, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) put away the first goal of the night less than three minutes into the contest, and North Iowa sailed to a 15-0 win to close out the regular season with the NA3HL’s second-best winning percentage.
Jett Larson (Rancho Mirage, Calif./Shattuck-St. Mary’s U18) and Jarod Blackowiak (Eden Prairie, Minn./Austin Bruins) also notched goals in the opening 13 minutes, sending North Iowa into the second period with a 3-0 lead. The Bulls also carried a 19-6 shots-on-goal advantage out of the opening 20 minutes.
Peter Verstegen (Oshkosh, Wis./Oshkosh H.S.) tacked one onto the lead just under eight minutes into the second period, but then the lead began to escalate more quickly. Dan Sandvig (Burnsville, Minn./Burnsville H.S.) and Aaron Swanson (Sun Prairie, Wis./Amarillo Bulls) put away goals in a 68-second span midway through the second period to push the lead to 6-0.
The second-intermission lead hit 9-0 thanks to goals from Shane Bernhardson (Apple Valley, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), Ivan Bogach (Brooklyn, N.Y./Shattuck-St. Mary’s U18) and Dayton Honkanen (New Brighton, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) in the last five-and-a-half minutes of the second period.
After making 28 stops on 37 North Iowa shots, Wausau swapped Christian Sanzoterra out of the net in favor of backup Jackson Fazendin. The score stayed steady for just over seven minutes, before Tucker Kruse (Woodbury, Minn./Cretin-Derham Hall) found the back of the net on a power play, following a high-sticking call against the RiverWolves’ Barak Broad.
That started another scoring flurry – Tyler Bump (Prior Lake, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) became the 11th player to put away a goal with his wrist shot from the left faceoff circle at 8:31 of the final period. Just 33 seconds later, Mitch Dolter (Faribault, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) ripped one into the net for his team-leading 36th of the season and a 12-0 advantage.
After that, the scoring episodes started to become reruns – Arnold notched his second goal of the game with 8:42 remaining, and Bump and Swanson would also get a second goal apiece in the game’s final seven minutes. Fazendin faced 22 North Iowa shots in the final 20 minutes, stopping 16 of them.
In all, 17 skaters picked up points in the game – the odd man out ended up being John Studioso (Edmonds, Wash./Everett Jr. Silvertips), who still finished +3 for the game. Tyler Hawk (Colorado Springs, Colo./Pittsburgh Vengeance) also went without a goal, but registered his 14th win of the season, and first shutout as a member of the Bulls with 16 stops on the night.
With their 39th win of the year and 82 points in the standings, North Iowa was able to leapfrog the Texas Brahmas and climb into the number-two overall spot in the final NA3HL regular-season standings. If the Bulls are able to win the Central Division playoff crown and advance to the Fraser Cup tournament at the end of March, they would be no worse than the second seed.
802 fans witnessed the regular-season finale, which put the Bulls above the 20,000 mark for home attendance at the North Iowa Ice Arena for the season. North Iowa drew an average of 910 fans per game in “The Barn,” the sixth year in a row the Bulls have topped the 900-per-game mark in home attendance. In each of their seven years in the NA3HL, the Bulls have been the league’s top draw.
Sunday’s game was an early playoff preview for Bulls and RiverWolves fans, with the two teams squaring off again on Friday night back in Mason City to start the Central Division postseason run. The opening faceoff is slated for 7:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr. For advance tickets to Friday’s playoff game or any future Bulls home game, click here.