Hockey: AAHA brings Johnnies to Runestone Community Center
Members of the Alexandria Area Hockey Association (AAHA) are hoping for a similar fan reaction to a game against Division III college hockey teams as the one that brought the Russian Red Stars to the Runestone Community Center to play the Blizzard on December 19.
The AAHA will bring in St. John's University to play the University of Wisconsin-River Falls at the RCC on January 6 at 7 p.m. After watching the Blizzard sell almost 1,200 tickets, the youth hockey organization is hoping fans are once again interested in seeing hockey at a college level come to Alexandria.
"I think we're all extremely excited," AAHA board member Kent Kopp said. "It's a great opportunity to see hockey at a higher level. We think it's great for the skaters in our program to watch that next level after high school and see some great hockey being played."
The Johnnies will bring a lot of local ties back to the area. Former Cardinals' all-conference player Justin Hochsprung is a sophomore on the St. John's roster. He has five points for a Johnnies team that has gone 3-6-2 at the start of his sophomore season. Former Blizzard players Jascha Pettit and Josh Gaughan are also on the St. John's roster, while former Blizzard defenseman Derek Kaiser plays for UW-River Falls.
"Alexandrians are loyal to the people who come from Alexandria," Kopp said. "So having those Alexandria players who play for St. John's helps a lot...I know when we got together as a board, it definitely made us more excited about pursuing the opportunity."
All the proceeds will go toward helping out the local youth hockey organization. Kopp said the AAHA covers the costs for St. John's to come to Alexandria but the paid admission and money spent on food and drinks at the game will benefit the AAHA.
For the Johnnies, it's a chance to play in what head coach Doug Schueller hopes is a good atmosphere with most of the St. John's student body at home on Christmas break. That made traveling an hour to host a home game worth the trip.
"Our home rink is a rink that holds around 6,000 people," Schueller said. "When there's not students around, it can get kind of dull, so I have two games here, one in Alex and one in Buffalo, where we're able to get the youth hockey programs involved. It should be ideal for them. They're going to get all the proceeds from the event and hopefully it will also be a fun atmosphere for our players to get out and help the community and play a good hockey game."
It's also an opportunity for St. Johns to play in a town that it recruits pretty hard. Schueller watches the Blizzard play 10-15 times a year and said there are four or five players on this year's team that he would love to have in a Johnnies' uniform someday. Any chance at getting his team some exposure in front of potential recruits is an opportunity this team doesn't want to pass up.
The Johnnies will take on a 9-2-2 River Falls team. The Falcons are the top team in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association with a 5-1-2-league record. St. John's is looking forward to taking them on in a new surrounding next Friday.
"For whatever reason, we haven't been that successful on our home ice," Schueller said. "I think our team is suited better for a smaller ice sheet. I'm just as confident going to Alexandria as I am playing [River Falls] at home...I think we can play a very good game and have a very good chance at winning."