Just as they did through the NA3HL Playoffs and Silver Cup, the North Iowa Bulls showed the same resilience and dominance through the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championships on their way to the USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship title, as they defeated the MNJHL’s Twin Cities Northern Lights on Monday afternoon by a score of 6-2.
The National Championship is the first for an NA3HL team since the league was restructured and rebranded two and half years ago. For the Bulls, it completed a remarkable playoff run, in which they won all 11 of their playoff games on the way to the National title. This also marks the second time in less than a year that the Bulls ownership group of Consolidated Sports Holdings, Inc, led by Bill Yuill and Gary Gelinas, has won a USA Hockey Junior National Championship.
In just their second season of existence, the Bulls have reached the top of the Tier III junior hockey world. “We really had a meteoric rise. There were a lot of people that helped the organization to get to this point. Credit has to go to the players, for without their hard work and drive, we could not have accomplished what we did,” said Bulls head coach Todd Sanden. “The ownership, my coaching staff, the support staff, the fans… they are all the best and make us feel like we have something pretty special going on here. We play in such a tough and competitive league. The NA3HL provides the means, organization, structure and competition not only to make our team successful, but our players successful. Many players will leave our team and the league with an opportunity to play at the next level and the great experience of having been fortunate enough to play for and win a National Championship because of playing in a league like the NA3HL.”
NAHL Commissioner and NA3HL President Mark Frankenfeld was present at the event as had the following to say regarding the Bulls Championship. “It was a great experience for everyone that attended and played in the event, and it was a very well-run tournament. Our congratulations to North Iowa Bulls organization including, Consolidated Sports Holdings, head coach Todd Sanden, the players, the staff and the North Iowa fans on their National Championship. They were great and deserving representatives of the NA3HL and played with the spirit and determination that defines the NA3HL, as we continue our mission to provide the best path for more players to grow and develop, while being showcased in front of the entire junior, college and professional scouting community.”
After a double-overtime win in the Semi-Finals the night before, the Bulls were slow to get started early in the 1st period as the Northern Lights jumped to the lead. Just over six minutes into the game Zach Hayes picked up a loose rebound in front and put a shot past North Iowa goalie Matt Bartels for a 1-0 lead on the power play goal. “We got our worst period out of the way,” said Sanden. “We are built to play a 60-minute game, so we got stronger as the game went along. We know we are going to score goals and had to remain confident.” The determined Bulls would come back to tie the game later in the period as a nice pass from Tim Santopoalo in the corner got the puck to an open Eric Behrend, who lifted a shot past Isaac Tjaden.
The 2nd period is where the Bulls really made their mark and started to show their dominance. Patrick Sivets scored on the power play to make the score 2-1 as he got a pass from behind the net and smashed home the goal and give the Bulls a lead they would never lose the rest of the game. A miscue behind the net by Twin Cities goalie Isaac Tjaden as Conor Jonasson took away the puck and stuffed it home on a second try to increase the lead to 3-1.
In the 3rd period, Matt Bartels kept the Bulls ahead with several big saves. With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Hayes picked up his second of the game to cut the lead to 3-2, but North Iowa would not be daunted as just over three minutes later James Hughes raced in on a breakaway and went top shelf to beat Tjaden for a 4-2 North Iowa lead. Richie Marenis made it 5-2 just :13 second later as he poked home a loose puck in front to put game on ice. A late empty-net goal from Connor Langfield made the final 6-2. Bartels made 38 saves on 40 Northern Lights shots, while the Bulls fired 38 shots on goal.