MASON CITY — There’s no place the North Iowa Bulls would rather be than the North Iowa Ice Arena this weekend.
In traditional fashion, the Bulls opened their season with a month on the road before their first scheduled home game. After a long wait, they're finally ready to drop the puck in Mason City.
“My hope is that it’s going to be as big as or bigger than any home opener that we’ve had,” North Iowa coach Todd Sanden said. “Home openers are special every year, especially with our fan base and the way they support the team. I would hope the building is full and full of energy.”
That’s been the case for the past few seasons as the Bulls have had the opportunity to raise their championship banners in front of a packed crowd.
While that won’t be so this year – although they will still hang their Central Division championship banner – that doesn’t give them any reason to not get excited for Friday and Saturday’s games against the Wisconsin Whalers.
“We played a couple weekends away and it’s going to be nice just to be getting ready in our own locker room and playing in front of the home fans,” North Iowa forward Tyler Bump said.
The Bulls are put in this unique situation every season.
With the arena booked up through September most years, the Bulls are constantly out of Mason City. Whether it be practicing up in Albert Lea until the ice is in or playing consecutive series on the road, the home drought wears on even the veterans.
But, on the flip side, these home openers become that much more meaningful.
“It’s going to be so nice this weekend when we get to play in front of them (the home fans) again,” Bump said. “It’s just so much fun.”
The Bulls come into this weekend’s series after having dropped their first two games of the season in a pair of contests at St. Louis a week ago. Both nights the Bulls had their chances to win, but ultimately wound up losing in overtime the first night, and in a shootout on the second night.
They were the first hiccups in an otherwise flawless start to the season.
North Iowa has gotten production from all four of its lines as it has six players with 10 or more points so far, led by Bump with 16 (six goals, 10 assists). Collin Cain has also provided a spark in goal as he sports a 6-0-1-1 record in eight starts and has a goals-against average of 2.92.
A weekend off has given North Iowa ample practice time to correct its wrongs from the pair of losses, and a little home cooking might be just what they need.
“A lot of the older guys have talked about it, but you can’t really fully understand it until you are in it,” Bump said of the home-ice advantage.
North Iowa has led the league in average attendance every year of its existence, and an advantage it has been to be in “The Barn.”
“The energy the crowd brings and the energy the building brings I think it’s worth a couple goals a night and a big save or two a night, so when you get that advantage, a lot of nights that’s enough to tip you over the edge,” Sanden said.