Canavati and DelCastillo explain the "hard decision" the Blizzard made
Alexandria Blizzard owners Chris and Mitri Canavati took over a franchise that was on the brink of folding or being relocated in 2005 because they wanted to see a junior hockey team thrive in Alexandria.
Their teams did that on the ice as Alexandria set franchise records for wins in each of the last three seasons. That's why the decision to move the Tier II Blizzard team to Brookings and replace it with a Tier III team was made after a lot of thought and conversation. In the end, they felt like they had no choice but to make the move.
Chris Canavati said Alexandria is by far the smallest market of any team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). With a population of around 12,500, it proved to be too small to support a team at the Tier II level.
"With a Tier II team in Alexandria, it was going to come to a point that it couldn't sustain itself any longer," Chris said. "Was it a hard decision? Absolutely. It was a hard decision that we faced every year."
Canavati said making money was never the objective for him or his brother. Their goal was to break even, while providing the players a chance to play their way to the next level.
"The objective was not to make money," he said. "We just didn't want to lose money."
A lot of expenses go into operating a Tier II team, including ice cost, coaching, travel and equipment for the players. Players pay their own way at the Tier III level as they work to get noticed by colleges or move their way up the ladder at the junior level.
"The Alexandria area better supports a team in the NA3 than it does in the North American Hockey League," Canavati said. "What we want to do is bring junior hockey to Alexandria and keep it here."
Head coach Doc DelCastillo called it the next step for this organization but said that doesn't make it easy. He accepted the head job with the Tier II team in Brookings after spending the last three years in Alexandria.
DelCastillo has a wife and six daughters ages 3 to 15. The news of the move is never easy on a family, but it comes with the territory for a lot of coaches at this level.
"Each time you move, you realize that your daughters are leaving best friends behind," DelCastillo said. "This is such a good community to raise a family in. Our girls play hockey here, run track, our family is a part of the community as far as St. Mary's Church. It's not an easy thing to do, but we also feel that it's a great opportunity for our organization."
Both Canavati and Del-Castillo pointed to the fact that they will be providing opportunities for twice as many players by having the two teams.
"We're providing more young men an opportunity to play at a higher level," DelCastillo said. "That really excites us."
As for the Alexandria fans, both Canavati and DelCastillo said they know it's sensitive for everyone but hope they ultimately understand. The Blizzard drew 25,995 people through the 40 regular-season games. That ranked 16th out of the 28 teams in the league but last among teams in the Central Division.
"I know there's a lot of disappointment," Canavati said. "It was a very difficult decision for us to make. We're extremely proud of our community in Alexandria for supporting the team as well as they did."
He said he expects those fans to continue supporting the Tier III team as well. Alexandria will play in the 3HL West Division against teams from around the region, including Little Falls and Sauk Rapids.
"Hopefully the community stays behind us," Canavati said. "It's still going to be good hockey. We're still going to put on the same show. Our standards and expectations don't change just because we're going to Tier III, and we don't want the fans to expect a different experience."