Facing a two-goal deficit less than seven minutes into the game, the Aberdeen Wings knew they needed to buckle down and regroup Friday night against the North Iowa Bulls in Mason City, IA.
And three unanswered goals later, the Wings skated to the 3-2 victory, serving the Bulls a loss and spoiling their home debut in the North American Hockey League.
Chris Carroll got North Iowa on the board just 49 seconds into the game, scoring a backhand shot on a 2-on-1 attack. At the 6:34 mark in the first, the Bulls struck again when Michael Mesic took a cross-ice pass to give his squad the 2-0 cushion.
Just when things were looking bleak for Aberdeen, Luke Amell turned the momentum just 15 seconds later, grabbing a behind-the-net pass and sneaking it home to put the Wings within one. It was Amell’s first goal of the season, while Anthony Messuri got his first assist and Chase Davis nabbed his second.
Wings goaltender Kyle Kozma kept the Wings within striking distance, making several big saves and denying the Bulls’ chances. With Aberdeen still trailing 2-1, Owen DuBois led a three-on-one attack, driving a shot into the chest of North Iowa goaltender Cullen DeYoung — he made the initial save, but Jackson Yee was there to grab the rebound and tie the game at two apiece with over six minutes remaining in the period. It was Yee’s second goal of the season, DuBois’ first assist and Maksis Brimanis’ second.
The two teams traded penalties in the first, even playing a bit of four-on-four hockey, but neither team managed to score again. Kozma made another big save to close out the period, overall denying 18 of the 20 shots North Iowa sent his way. DeYoung stopped seven of the Wings’ nine shots, and the teams headed into the first break tied 2-2.
The middle period started slower for both teams. Not wanting his squad to fall behind again, Kozma kept the momentum in the Wings’ favor, making a sprawling save that everyone thought went in until the puck appeared in his glove. The teams traded penalties once again, playing another round of four-on-four hockey, and the Wings even found themselves on a very brief five-on-three advantage. But the Bulls’ penalty kill unit was in full force, denying the attack to keep the game tied.
At the 12:43 mark in the second, the Wings found the break they were looking for when Nate Mann set the perfect screen for Devon Carlstrom, who went five-hole to give Aberdeen their first lead of the game. The eventual game-winner was Carlstrom’s first of the season, while Mann nabbed his fourth assist and Seamus Campbell grabbed his first apple.
While the Bulls killed several penalties in the middle stanza, the Wings did the same, fending off three penalties of their own, and headed into the final break with the 3-2 lead.
Needing to hold onto the lead for 20 minutes, the Wings’ offense fired more shots, including a near-miss shorthanded goal, and Kozma stood steady in net, making several highlight-worthy saves to keep his squad on top. Aberdeen had another brief five-on-three attack but the Bulls’ penalty kill unit refused to let anything past them. After several more big saves in the game’s closing seconds, the Wings held off the Bulls attack to take home the hard-fought win.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Wings head coach Steve Jennings said of his netminder. “We needed him to stand tall and he did. He’s a goalie that gives us a chance to win every night he plays.”
After the dust settled, Kozma claimed the win, denying 33-35 shots fired his way, while DeYoung stopped 23-26. While the Bulls denied all six of Aberdeen’s power plays, the Wings were equally as strong, killing off all six penalties of their own en route to nabbing two coveted league points.
“We talked about needing to be sharp on special teams, especially the penalty kill,” Jennings said. “I was very happy with the attention to detail to what we discussed. The boys did a great job challenging the key areas. Our power play wasn’t as sharp as it was last weekend in Blaine, but on our last opportunity, I thought they were much better.”
The teams will have their rematch Saturday night inside Mason City Arena with another 7:30 p.m. puck drop. Fans can watch the game using their HockeyTV login, or at Buffalo Wings & Rings in Aberdeen, the official home for Wings away games. For Jennings, he’s ready to get back on the ice.
“I wasn’t really happy with our start, but I was pleased we pulled even by the end of the first period,” Jennings said. “I felt like we improved each period, but we have more to give. I was happy the boys pulled together on a gritty road win.”