ST. CLOUD, Minn. – It’s often said that good things come in threes.
After Saturday night’s second game of the West Division Finals, the North Iowa Bulls need that to ring true one more time. The Willmar WarHawks turned a one-goal deficit late in the second period into a 2-1 victory, forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 on Sunday evening in the NA3HL Fraser Cup West Division Finals.
The Bulls made a detour to St. Cloud for Saturday’s game thanks to a scheduling conflict at the Willmar Civic Center, with the Home and Outdoor Expo already booked for the facility during the longest postseason run in the WarHawks’ history. Neither team looked particularly at home on the Municipal Athletic Complex rink in the first period, with the WarHawks posting an 11-6 shots-on-goal advantage but unable to find the back of the net.
North Iowa settled into the lead late in the first, thanks in part to an interference call against Ethan Light with 4:05 left on the clock. 25 seconds later, the Bulls power play unit cycled the puck up top to Cal Nauss (Wayzata, Minn./North Iowa Bulls), who threw one into the net down the slot and through the traffic for the 1-0 lead.
“I just look for an angle through (the traffic),” said Nauss. “If the guy (defending) is on me, if he’s not in my lane, then I can take the shot. I’ve got my guys in front to help me out and take the goalie’s eyes away.”
The teams played a fairly even pace in the second period, but the WarHawks were able to swing the momentum heading into the second intermission. With3:03 left in the period, defenseman Gavin Uckele slung the puck toward the Bulls net, clipping the edge of Carson Jones’s (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) skate in the process and beating Carsen Stokes (Prior Lake, Minn./Minnesota Wilderness) through the five-hole to tie the game.
The WarHawks took command of the narrative at the 58-second mark of the third period, when Jonah Jangula won a faceoff in the North Iowa end to Stokes’s left – his pass went to Nate Cox, who fired a slap shot into the net for a 2-1 Willmar lead. Willmar kept the pressure on in the final 19 minutes of the game, and despite a push in the final 1:05 with six skaters and an empty net, the Bulls were not able to wipe out the lead.
“We’ve got to be better,” said Nauss. “We played well, but we can’t score one goal and win games, so we’ve got to find ways to put the puck in the net and play solid defense.”
Willmar fired 38 shots on the North Iowa net, with Stokes doing his part in a 36-save performance. Lukas Haugen made 26 saves for the second night in a row, this time turning in a win for the WarHawks. Each team got four power play chances in the game, with North Iowa the only team to capitalize on one.
With the loss, North Iowa falls to 9-4 all-time in Game 2 elimination-game scenarios after earning a win in Game 1. Both teams will play for their seasons in Sunday’s decisive Game 3 – with both division finalists in both the Central and South Divisions ahead of the West Division champion Bulls, the West is guaranteed to have just one team in St. Peters, Missouri for the Fraser Cup tournament next week.
The Bulls will look to repeat their recent history after earning a home win over the Alexandria Blizzard last Sunday to earn a three-game win in the West Division Semifinals. North Iowa is 4-1 all-time in a deciding Game 3, winning four straight, all of which came on home ice. The opening puck drop at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., with live streaming coverage on HockeyTV and free audio streaming on Mixlr. To purchase advance tickets to Sunday’s game, click here.
2021-22 season tickets are on sale now, as North Iowa makes its move to the North American Hockey League, with a 10-percent early-bird discount still in effect until April 30. Updated news and information on the Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are always available at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
North Iowa 1 0 0 – 1
Willmar 0 1 1 – 2
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Nauss 1 (Newpower, Jorgenson), 16:20 (PP). Penalties-Light Wil (interference-minor), 15:55; Nauss Nio (hooking-minor), 18:31.
2nd Period-2, Willmar, Uckele 2 (Kupka), 16:57. Penalties-Light Wil (cross checking-minor), 3:03; Huffman Nio (interference-minor), 8:43.
3rd Period-3, Willmar, Cox 1 (Jangula), 0:58. Penalties-Miller Wil (interference-minor), 2:47; Mock Wil (boarding-minor), 6:09; Nauss Nio (cross checking-minor), 6:40; Jones Nio (high sticking-double minor), 16:07; Johnson Wil (roughing-minor), 16:07.
Shots on Goal-North Iowa 6-11-10-27. Willmar 11-11-16-38.
Power Play Opportunities-North Iowa 1 / 4; Willmar 0 / 4.
Goalies-North Iowa, Stokes (38 shots-36 saves). Willmar, Haugen (27 shots-26 saves).
Linesmen-Reilly Hickey, Nicholas Seppala.