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The chance to impress

Alexandria’s Joe Anderson positions himself for a shot during a game against North Iowa on November 15. Anderson is one of the Blizzard’s top players who hopes to continue playing hockey at another level. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

Players in the NA3HL generally enjoy playing hockey at the junior level, but most also have dreams of continuing their careers at the next level.

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Most of the players in the NA3HL are developing their games to continue playing hockey for a college team. While younger kids may have aspirations to continue playing at a higher tier of junior hockey, many of the older players are focused on building a resume for a college career.

“Some of the younger kids, they are trying to get to the NAHL or the USHL,” Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said. “The older kids, they know they have a good place to play and they want to win here. They know at the end they are going to go to a Division III college.”

Crouse said players who end up with a Division III team are happy to play at that level. Playing college hockey and getting a degree is a great opportunity for most of the players in the NA3HL.

“There’s nothing wrong with that. Division III hockey is really good and you’re getting a degree out of the deal,” Crouse said. “And most of the kids have to go to school anyway, so you get to go to school, play hockey and get a degree.”

Last year in the NA3HL, Crouse said about 95 total players went on to play college hockey at the Division III level. That number was about 45 percent higher than in the previous year.

“It’s not that big of a percentage, but you’re looking at about four or five kids from each team,” Crouse said. “So if you look at it from that standpoint, that’s pretty good. And that number is growing.”

One opportunity for Blizzard players to get exposure to scouts is playing at the NA3HL Showcase, as they did November 22 through 25 in Illinois. NAHL teams and about 20 to 30 Division III colleges had scouts at the event to look at the talent in the league.

Each of the 24 teams in the NAHL is required to tender, or pick up, one player from the NA3HL for their roster in the following season. This gives players the opportunity to stick at a higher level of junior hockey.

Last year, Ian Ecklund was tendered by the Bismarck NAHL team and had the opportunity to play there before he was released and decided to come back to Alexandria.

Players are eligible for the NA3HL as long as they are younger than 21 years of age on December 31 of that year. Usually, Division III schools wait until the end of their season to start talking about commitments from junior teams like Alexandria. Most colleges are able to free up time for scouting in February and March.

“Usually they’ll decide February, March, toward the end of our year,” Crouse said. “They’ll come watch us and come watch the playoffs and then get a commitment from the kid.”

Big victory for the Blizzard

The Alexandria Blizzard got perhaps its biggest win of the season on Saturday night in handing North Iowa its first loss in a 5-1 game.

The Bulls came in at 18-0 but Alexandria ran away from them throughout the night on Saturday. Mick Dhein had a lot to do with that as he recorded the hat trick, including the first two goals of the night for Alexandria. That erased a 1-0 deficit in the second period. Joe Anderson and Aammir Freese each added goals for the Blizzard to help this team move to 14-7 overall.

See Friday’s issue of the Echo Press for more on what this win means for the team and a preview of three games on the road for the Blizzard this weekend.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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