Todd Sanden has been around a lot of hockey players over the years.

The coach and general manager of the North Iowa Bulls has not only helped mold the franchise into one of the best teams in the NA3HL, but he has also helped many players reach their dream of playing college hockey.

“That’s exactly why I do this, to see our guys succeed,” Sanden said. “It’s really great to see the kids being able to compete at the next level.”

During his tenure with the Bulls, Sanden has traded emails and phone calls with numerous college coaches. The result has been over 25 of Sanden’s former players with the Bulls moving on to play college hockey.

“If you look at the history of this program, we’ve been blessed with a lot of great players,” Sanden said. “They’re the type of kids college coaches want. Not only are they great on the ice and are driven to succeed, but they’re great people off the ice.”

On Jan. 13, a total of seven former North Iowa players – Johnny Panvica and Brett Gravelle for the University of St. Thomas and University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Connor Bump, Austin Jackson, Joe Kleven and Dylan Zins – appeared in the same game, marking another special moment for the North Iowa franchise.

“That was such a proud moment for me as a coach to have seven former players appear in the same game,” Sanden said. “All of those kids are competitive and it was game on and battle on when they were on the ice. I’m sure when they were shaking hands after the game and they were reminiscing about their time they spent in Mason City.”

While St. Thomas came away with a 3-1 victory in that historic meeting of former Bulls players, it won’t be the last time the teams meet as they’re scheduled to battle again at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, as part of Hockey Day Minnesota.

Panvica has appeared in 11 games for St. Thomas, recording two goals and four assists while Gravelle has four goals and seven assists in 15 games for the Tommies.

Meanwhile, Kleven was honorable mention all-WIAC last season for Wisconsin-Stout, scoring six goals with six assists last season and has two goals and five assists for the Blue Devils this season. Zins had three goals and five assists last season and has scored twice this season while Jackson has a goal and an assist in eight games this season.

Also, Bump has appeared in seven games and the former enforcer for the Bulls has two penalties for four minutes for the Blue Devils while Ahlgren has recorded nearly 600 minutes in net with a save percentage of .895 and 3.21 goals against average.

“It’s amazing seeing what these guys have been doing,” Sanden said. “They’ve shown the willingness to work hard for their new teams and have found some success at that level.”