Matt Bartels made 38 saves and his North Iowa teammates scored three times in the final 3:07 Monday to help the Bulls pull away and win the USA Hockey Tier III Junior Nationals with a 6-2 championship game victory over the Twin Cities Northern Lights.
Twin Cities got on the board first when Zachary Hayes scored a power-play goal 6:38 into the game. However, North Iowa scored three straight after that. Hayes connected again with 6:47 left to bring the Northern Lights back within 3-2. That was as close as they would get.
Eric Behrend had a goal and an assist for the Bulls, the North American 3 Hockey League champions. The Bulls got goals from five other players and assists from four more.
James Hughes scored unassisted with 3:07 left to give North Iowa a 4-2 lead. Richie Marenis scored, on a Behrend assist, 13 seconds later to break the game open at 5-2. Connor Langfield added an unassisted, empty-net goal with 1:54 remaining.
North Iowa made it through the five-day tournament in Rochester, Minn. unbeaten, but getting to the final was difficult.
In Sundays’s semifinals, North Iowa had to rally from a two-goal deficit to pull out a 3-2 win over the Helena Bighorns in double overtime.
Christian Axelsson and Parker Olson scored first-period goals for Helena. Matt Kroska started the North Iowa comeback on a goal with 1:21 left in the second period. Timothy Santapoalo scored 1:28 into the third period.
The game remained tied for more than 44 minutes until Jake Johnson scored at 16:05 of the second overtime, on an assist from James Hughes, to lift the Bulls into the final. Bartels made 59 saves. Alex Lazarski made 71 for Helena in the loss.
In the other semifinal, the Northern Lights defeated the Atlanta Junior Knights 4-3. Matt Pietrzykowski had a goal and two assists for Twin Cities. Atlanta’s Jordan Simmonds scored twice.
The tournament began with pool play Thursday through Saturday.
North Iowa went 3-0 — outscoring opponents by a 17-3 margin — to finish first in the National Division. Twin Cities was 2-1 in the division. The Bellingham Blazers went 1-2 while the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs were 0-3.
Atlanta was 3-0 to win the American Division. Helena was 2-1. The New Jersey Rockets were 1-2 with one of the losses coming in overtime. The Boch Blazers were 0-3 with one of their losses also coming in overtime.