Blizzard hockey: Alexandria kicks off inaugural season in NA3HLAlexandria will be on the road against Quad City this weekend
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Alexandria Blizzard is ready to put a hectic off-season behind it and put its new product on the ice this weekend as the team kicks off its inaugural season in the NA3HL.
Alexandria’s first seven games will be on the road with no ice available on the main rink at the Runestone Community Center until October. That road trip starts with a two-game series against Quad City this Saturday and Sunday. The Blizzard’s home opener will be October 13 when Granite City comes to the RCC for a 7 p.m. drop of the puck.
“I like being on the road early,” head coach Jeff Crouse said on Tuesday. “We’re hopping on the bus heading down to Davenport, Iowa on a seven, eight hour drive. It’s building team camaraderie. Guys get to know each other by hanging out in the hotels. You get on the road and there’s not as much pressure, especially with a new team. I think getting away for a little bit and fine tuning some things before we play in front of our home crowd is good.”
It’s a roster that isn’t yet complete, but one Crouse says he is excited to get going. Alexandria will take 20 players into its opener this weekend and plans to add a few more by the end of the month as guys are cut after teams at the Tier II level finalize their rosters.
The organization wanted to create opportunities for local athletes to play at the junior hockey level, and the Blizzard did that with three Alexandria players on the roster. Garrett Skinner was a captain for the Cardinals last season, while Jack Wensman and Tom Schmidt are currently seniors at Jefferson High School. They can play at the junior level before and after their high school season this winter.
Crouse made the decision to move Skinner to forward after he played a lot as a defenseman for Alexandria last winter. All three will be expected to play important roles for the Blizzard.
“[Garrett] almost made Brookings [Tier II team],” Crouse said. “He was very close to making the Brookings team, so he’s a very good hockey player. I’m expecting big things from Garrett. For Jack and Tom, the big thing is their big bodies. They’re big kids who can handle junior hockey…I’m looking for all three of the Alex guys to contribute. I have Garrett playing on one of my top lines right now. They all work hard. They’re all great kids and the big thing is they want to get better.”
From right in their backyard, to Moscow, Russia, that’s the geographical gap that the Blizzard covered in putting together this roster. Nikolai Sherstiuk played junior hockey for the Twin Cities Northern Lights last winter before a Blizzard scout got ahold of Crouse and asked if he would be interested in having Sherstiuk join his team in Alexandria this season. It’s a testament to what the athletes are willing to do to try to enhance their hockey careers.
“I kind of based my team on that this year,” Crouse said. “I have some guys who are hungry and working hard. If he’s coming here from Russia, he wants to develop and get better. A lot of those kids want to learn about the American culture too. They want to speak English or go to an American university or college.”
Sherstiuk is part of a group that Crouse feels is talented enough to compete with every team it will play against this season. How new players in a new league will perform once they hit the ice is yet to be determined, but it’s something this team is ready to find out.
“I’m really excited,” Crouse said. “I went to the Brookings exhibition game against
Bismarck and then coming back and watching my guys, there’s not a lot of difference. It’s really small. They may be a little bigger, maybe a little faster, a little bit more skilled, but as far as the play goes, it’s not that big of a difference.”