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34 in 34: North Iowa Bulls

August 20, 2015
The 34 in 34 series will feature an in-depth look into all 34 teams in the NA3HL for the 2015-16 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 34 in 34 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 34 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2015-16 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2014-15 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 34 in 34 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
 
North Iowa Bulls
2014-15 Record: 37-9-1, 75 pts. (1st in the West Division)
2014-15 Playoffs: Won the West Division title, lost in the Silver Cup Finals, won the USA Hockey Tier III National Championship
Head Coach: Todd Sanden
2015-16 Division: Central
 
2014-15 proved to be another very satisfying season for the North Iowa Bulls.  The Bulls proudly represented the NA3HL in their third straight USA Hockey Tier III Junior National Championship game, claiming the title for the second time in that span.  The Bulls also captured their third straight West Division regular season title en route to their third straight NA3HL West Division Playoff championship.  The only bump in the road of 2014-15 proved to be the NA3HL Silver Cup championship game where the Bulls fell 3-2 to Granite City, who also represented the NA3HL at Nationals.  “Certainly, the tonic for the Silver Cup loss was refocusing and getting things done at the National tournament that would give us a chance for redemption and the ultimate prize, the National Championship,” said Bulls head coach Todd Sanden.
 
Development and advancement of players has become a cornerstone of the North Iowa Bulls and last season was no different as five players signed NAHL tenders. North Iowa also placed nine more players in NCAA Division III and ACHA Division I opportunities. “When you see that 15 of the 23 players on our roster advanced their careers by playing here, it is very satisfying to know that we are doing a great job of finding the right players and helping them reach their goals,” said Sanden. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many games you win if players aren’t advancing. The amount of players advancing is what we take the most pride in.”
 
2015-16 looks to be challenging regarding a lack of returning players.  With just six returning from last year’s National Championship team, it will be imperative to find that right mix to start the season.  “We are starting the season with two returning goaltenders in Tommi Ahlgren and David Johnson, which takes some of the sting out of rebuilding,” remarked Sanden. 
 
Both Ahlgren and Johnson had great numbers for the Bulls during the 2014-15 campaign.  Johnson carried a .932 save percentage and a 1.74 GAA for the Bulls. He was also tied for the NA3HL lead in shutouts with six in just 16 starts. Ahlgren was solid for the Bulls posting 2.09 GAA and a .923 save percentage with one shutout and a 12-2 record in his starts.  On defense, the Bulls return Adam Orn and Tom Lindgren.  The two combined for a +41 rating during the NA3HL regular season.  “Both are well seasoned defensemen and we look for them to carry our corps coming in,” said Sanden. At forward, Jack Stang and Ryan Durant return to lead the Bulls up front.  Both were regulars in the lineup and contributed in many ways to the success of the Bulls.   “Jack is cut of champions cloth and will be relied on for leadership of this years team.  Ryan provided solid depth that included scoring and responsible play, the trademark of recent Bulls teams.  We will roll four lines and six defensemen and expect everyone to contribute.”
 
The 2015-16 North Iowa Bulls enter a new age of their existence moving from the West Division into the Central Division.  Due to the expansion that has taken place in the NA3HL, North Iowa will build new rivalries while maintaining some common opponents from years past.  The Central proved to be one of the tougher divisions last season competitively speaking.  “We are looking forward to new opponents in the Central division and with keeping some of the old West foes alive on the schedule it will expand our players ability to be scouted by some colleges who weren’t able to see us in the West division,” said Sanden.  North Iowa will definitely lead the league in one category this year, as they play 23 out of division games as part of the regular season schedule. “It will be a challenge with so many new players,” said Sanden.
 
The new season brings many opportunities for the new players and a chance for returning players to carry the torch that has been passed by those who have gone before them.  “Our expectations do not change regardless of who we play or where we play, it is about developing as many players as we can and playing in that last game on the last day of the season, and being a champion," said Sanden.
 
Next in the 34 in 34 series: Peoria Mustangs
 
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