MASON CITY — This year’s North Iowa Bulls are built on unselfishness.
North Iowa has a roster packed with guys who came to Mason City just to win, and most are content with playing whatever role they can to help the Bulls back to the top of the NA3HL. Lucas McKinnon exemplifies that attitude.
McKinnon, a native of Chapin, a former West Fork student and Mohawk Hockey Club player, took off for Wisconsin halfway through high school to perfect his hockey skills, and it helped him make the jump to being the caliber of players Todd Sanden loves in North Iowa. But once he got here, it took a little soul searching to figure out where he belonged.
McKinnon’s turned his Bulls career around with a change of position, and both he and North Iowa are better off for it.
“I think it’s just his responsibility,” Sanden said. “The team he was on in Wisconsin was a championship team at Appleton United, and we want kids that are winners.”
He came up into high school as a defenseman, switched to forward once he got to high school, and stayed there until last year. The problem for McKinnon once he got to the Bulls: nothing was going his way offensively.
That’s when the decision was born to move him to defense, and McKinnon happily made the switch.
“Last year I started as a forward and I couldn’t get in a groove,” McKinnon said. “Just to switch things up I moved back to D … and it wasn’t too big of a transition moving back. Once I moved back I kind of got into a little groove.”
Even with the success, McKinnon still wanted to keep forging ahead as a forward, so he went back at the start of this season. But it was a new year and the same issues as he just couldn’t find the back of the net.
So, here he is, back on defense, but loving every minute of it as he is on the Bulls’ No. 1 defensive line paired with captain Shane Bernhardson.
“I just felt more comfortable back at D and I think that’s where I’m going to stay,” McKinnon said.
In his time as a blue-liner, Sanden has seen McKinnon’s skill set really shine through. It took a couple weeks at first to shake off the aggressiveness that comes from being a forward, but after some time, it’s a natural fit.
After the regular season, McKinnon stood at 18 points (two goals and 16 assists).
“Just the responsibility that he plays the game with and he’s not a guy who’s going to roll his hands a few times and let time get away with him, so when he sees a pass he makes it,” Sanden said. “And he can get up the rink and he skates well enough. Just that there, a kid that can skate and see the ice well … he’s not afraid to move pucks quickly and that’s exactly what we’re looking for in our defensemen.”
McKinnon and the Bulls had their chance Saturday night to complete an opening-round sweep vs. Wausau in the divisional playoffs after a 5-0 win on Friday.
He’s just happy to be playing the game he loves, back in the arena he grew up in, and to have finally found his place.
“Coach Sanden has done a lot for me and I couldn’t ask any more out of him. He’s a great coach,” he said. “And all the fans here – I’ve got a lot of friends and family who come out every night. I can’t complain about it. I couldn’t ask for anything better than being right here.”