MASON CITY, Iowa — The North Iowa Bulls won the NA3HL’s West Division regular-season championship and would be considered the favorites to win the West playoffs.

They needed three games to beat the Alexandria Blizzard in the first round of the playoffs, but got off to a good start in Round Two.

North Iowa beat the Willmar WarHawks 5-2 Friday night before an announced crowd of 1,100 at Mason City Arena.

Game 2 is 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex. The game was moved to St. Cloud because the Willmar Civic Center Arena is unavailable because of another commitment.

Game 3, if needed, is 7:30 p.m. Sunday back in Mason City.

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Max Savaloja had a big game for North Iowa, scoring two goals and being named the first star of the game. He’s a 19-year-old forward from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Both of his goals came in the third period, when North Iowa scored three goals.

The teams were tied 1-1 through the first period. The Bulls’ Carson Jones opened the scoring at 6:44. Willmar, however, tied it up at 15:11. Isaiah Thomas scored his third goal of the playoffs. The 21-year-old forward from Bismarck, N.D., was assisted by Lewis Rowan and Ben Johnson.

The Bulls took a 2-1 lead when Caden Smith scored at :58 seconds in the second period.

That’s where it stayed until Savaloja scored at 8:06 of the third.

Dylan Gajewski cut the WarHawks’ deficit to 3-2 at 11:07. But, Savaloja answered 13 seconds later to make it 4-2. North Iowa scored an empty-netter to make it 5-2.



North Iowa 5,

Willmar 2

Willmar (2-1-0) 1 0 1 — 2
North Iowa (3-0-1) 1 1 3 — 5
FIRST PERIOD – (1) NI: Carson Jones (Lucas Jorgenson, Carter Newpower) 6:44 … (2) W: Isaiah Thomas (Lewis Rowan, Ben Johnson) 15:11 … PENALTIES: (1) NI: Jones (interference-minor, 2 min) 16:02.
SECOND PERIOD – (3) NI: Caden Smith (Newpower, Brendan Sloth) :58. PENALTIES: (2) NI: Jones (charging-minor, 2 min) 5:50.
THIRD PERIOD – (4) NI: Max Savaloja 3 (Sota Isogao, Garrett Freeman) 8:06 … (5) W: Dylan Gajewski (Thomas, Hunter Bjorge) 11:07 … (6): NI: Savaloja (unassisted) 11:20 … (7) NI: Isogai (unassisted) 16:28, EN … PENALTIES: none.
GOALIE SAVES/SHOTS – Willmar: Lukas Haugen 26/30 … North Iowa: Carsen Stokes 30/32