MASON CITY, Iowa – The North Iowa Bulls had never lost at home to the Willmar WarHawks heading into Saturday’s contest at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. With the way the WarHawks have been playing out of the extended COVID shutdown in Minnesota, though, the point was clear to all: never count out the WarHawks.
North Iowa grabbed a 5-3 win on Saturday night, but the WarHawks made it interesting after going down by three goals in the third period. The power play struck twice in the final six minutes of the game, dropping the lead to one and pushing hard for the tying goal.
The Bulls struck first at the halfway mark of the opening period, when Campbell Cichosz (Albert Lea, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) took a faceoff win from Carson Jones (Eden Prairie, Minn./Kenai River Brown Bears) at the right point and knuckled a shot through traffic that wobbled past Will Pinney for a 1-0 lead.
North Iowa nearly left the ice with the lead, but the WarHawks leveled the game with 51 seconds remaining in the first after Austin Jozwick’s shot on the run was blocked out front for Cole Wigestrand. His curling rebound look went past Joe Daninger (Blaine, Minn./North Iowa Bulls) to tie the game heading to the second period.
Scoring was hard to come by in the middle period, with the Bulls grabbing only the one goal at the 13:43 mark. After coming up short on their first 12 power plays of the new year, Caden Smith (Lakeville, Minn./Janesville Jets) finally broke through off of a tic-tac-toe passing pattern from Jones and Carter Newpower (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park H.S.).
The Bulls grabbed control of the game in the early minutes of the third, thanks to another power play goal from Gavin Wendorf (Richfield, Minn./Dauphin Kings) that rocketed down the slot and into the upper half of the net at the 2:37 mark. Just 66 seconds later, an assembly line’s worth of passes out of the corner from Jones to Lucas Jorgenson (Orono, Minn./Holy Family H.S.) found Cichosz in the slot for a second goal and a 4-1 lead.
Late penalties nearly came back to haunt North Iowa, however – with 5:43 left and just nine seconds off of a tripping infraction against Kyle Heffron (Rosemount, Minn./Totino-Grace H.S.), a pass from Ethan Mock found Alex Kupka on the back post for a tap-in of his own to cut the lead to 4-2.
With 2:51 remaining and just 12 seconds left on a roughing call against Jase Sofo (Sylvania, Ohio/Amarillo Bulls), Lewis Rowan banged in a rebound off of a left-wing look from Ben Johnson to put Willmar back within a goal.
“I think everyone on the bench was a little nervous to see them score like that,” said Cichosz. “The penalties have just been killing us lately. I think the bench still stayed positive, though, and that’s what led us through and got us a victory.”
The WarHawks found themselves emboldened entering the final couple of minutes, but the Bulls were able to take advantage with the net empty. Garrett Freeman (Sartell, Minn./Breezy Point North Stars) turned the empty net into his team-leading 10th goal of the season with 1:14 to go, angling a clearing attempt off of the boards in front of the North Iowa bench. The puck only had eyes for the Willmar cage, though, settling into the back of the net.
With the win, the Bulls extended their head-to-head winning streak against Willmar to 18 games, including all 11 meetings all-time in Mason City. Cichosz finished with his first multi-goal game as a junior player, while Smith’s second-period power play marker was his first in a North Iowa uniform. Kupka had a goal and an assist, running his resume to seven points in just four games as a WarHawk.
Offense was not hard to come by for the power play units, with the Bulls picking up a 2-for-4 mark on the night and Willmar finishing 2-for-6. Daninger moved to 4-1 with the victory, making 26 saves, while Pinney made 20 saves in the loss.
North Iowa returns home for an exhibition contest against the Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep team on Wednesday night, with the puck drop scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mason City Multipurpose Arena. The New Ulm Steel visit to resume the Bulls’ regular season on Friday night. Live streaming coverage of both games is available on HockeyTV, with free audio streaming on Mixlr.
Updated news and information on the North Iowa Bulls’ 10th Anniversary season are available online at www.northiowabulls.com, and by following the team’s social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Willmar 1 0 2 – 3
North Iowa 1 1 3 – 5
1st Period-1, North Iowa, Cichosz 2 (Jones, Newpower), 10:10. 2, Willmar, Wigestrand 4 (Jozwick, Kupka), 19:09. Penalties-Jones Nio (hooking-minor), 3:40; Jones Nio (slashing-minor), 15:00; Willis Wil (slashing-minor), 16:05.
2nd Period-3, North Iowa, Smith 1 (Jones, Nauss), 13:43 (PP). Penalties-Bjorge Wil (tripping-minor), 12:03; Wendorf Nio (high sticking-double minor), 14:35; Fox Nio (boarding-minor), 17:30; Gajewski Wil (hooking-minor), 18:31.
3rd Period-4, North Iowa, Wendorf 2 (Heffron, Isogai), 2:37 (PP). 5, North Iowa, Cichosz 3 (Jorgenson, Jones), 3:43. 6, Willmar, Kupka 5 (Johnson, Bjorge), 14:17 (PP). 7, Willmar, Rowan 1 (Johnson, Gajewski), 17:09 (PP). 8, North Iowa, Freeman 10 (Savaloja), 18:47. Penalties-Gajewski Wil (cross checking-minor), 1:29; Heffron Nio (tripping-minor), 14:08; Sofo Nio (roughing-minor), 15:21.
Shots on Goal-Willmar 12-8-9-29. North Iowa 8-10-7-25.
Power Play Opportunities-Willmar 2 / 6; North Iowa 2 / 4.
Goalies-Willmar, Pinney 1-1-0-0 (25 shots-20 saves). North Iowa, Daninger 4-1-0-0 (29 shots-26 saves).
Linesmen-Ethan Fox, Aaron Mostrom.