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NA Now: North Iowa Bulls

August 29, 2023

The NA Now series features a look at all 32 teams in the NAHL for the 2023-24 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. NA Now looks into each NAHL team including interviews with all the head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.

North Iowa Bulls

Head Coach: Nick Bruneteau (1st season)

2022-23 record: 60 GP, 29-27-4, 62 pts. (6th in the Central Division)

2022-23 leading scorer: Logan Dombrowsky (55 points)

2023 Playoffs: Did not qualify

2023-24 Division: Central

First regular season game: Wednesday, September 13th vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs

Home opener: Friday, October 13th vs. Minot Minotauros

Since relocating to Mason City, Iowa in the Summer of 2021, the North Iowa Bulls have experienced two heart-breaking seasons, in which the team has fallen short of the Robertson Cup Playoffs both times. Last season, it was as close as it could get as the Bulls fell two points short of the final playoff spot. At the end of the March, the Bulls were in playoff position, but six consecutive losses to the Bismarck Bobcats sealed their fate.

Just 10 days after the season was over, the Bulls parted ways with head coach Todd Sanden. A few weeks later, the Bulls found their new bench boss in the form of Nick Bruneteau, who had previously been the head coach of the Mason City Toros in the NA3HL. Bruneteau had been the Toros coach since the 2021-22 season and led the team to playoff berths in both seasons. The former defenseman and native of Omaha, Nebraska, played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and later played NCAA Division I hockey at the University of Vermont.

“I am extremely thankful and humbled to have the chance to lead the North Iowa Bulls this season. I’m very excited to get things going. The NAHL has a great pedigree of not only players, but coaches as well, so I am honored to have this opportunity,” said Bruneteau. “As a staff our goals will be focused on player development, player advancement, getting this team back into the playoffs, and ultimately competing for a Robertson Cup.”

As for the 2023-24 season, Bruneteau understands that he will be starting with a clean slate, but that doesn’t lower expectations for success. “I am very motivated to get the Bulls back to the playoffs. That’s what we expect as an organization. The team was close last year and had a winning record, but in the Central Division, that’s not going to be enough. We have to respect the process and go day-by-day, but the goal this year is to get back to the post-season and then see what we can do from there,” said Bruneteau.

Watch: NA Now video interview with Nick Bruneteau

Bruneteau said that during his time in Mason City he is also motivated by the will of those supporting the team. “We have all the resources we need to be successful… committed ownership, a beautiful facility, and a big fan base. We have a ton of support and passion from our fans and they are craving winning hockey, so we will see if we can give them something to cheer about this season because they deserve it,” said Bruneteau.

The Bulls will be bolstered by three returning players who are all entering their third year in the NAHL with the organization in forwards Simone Dadie and Justin Mexico, along with defenseman Joe Sweeney. Dadie, who played for the Central Division at the 2023 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament last season had 35 points in 57 games played last year and has 48 points in 89 career NAHL games with the Bulls. Mexico recorded 29 points in 44 games played last season and has recorded 48 points in 100 career games. Sweeney has recorded 11 points in 64 career games with North Iowa. “We expect all three of those guys to be big leaders for us and be hungry to finally get to the playoffs,” said Bruneteau.

Besides Bruneteau coming up from the Toros in the NA3HL, there also could be a couple of his former players that make the journey of advancement as well in goalie Connor Graham and forward Hayden Siegel, who both spent significant time and made an impact in Mason City last season.

Bruneteau will make his debut with the Bulls at the NAHL Showcase in a few weeks and he said that he expects the team to be firing on all cylinders. “I’ve been able to see the NAHL Showcase the last few years and now to be a part of it will be a special feeling. The message all summer to our players has been to come into camp in total hockey shape both mentally and physically so that when we get to the Showcase, we are playing at a high level. Even though it is the first games of the season, it’s not an excuse not to be ready and playing at the top of your game,” said Bruneteau. “We want to play fast and free. We are here to build confidence and skill. The biggest thing for us is open communication with the players. We want to give players a roadmap to be successful. That means in-depth conversations, video work, and on-ice understanding of what it’s going to take for them to be successful and move onto the next level.

Next Up: Northeast Generals

 
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