The Alexandria Blizzard didn't get a chance to pull off an upset over top-seeded North Iowa in the NA3HL West Division playoffs this past spring.
The COVID-19 ended the season before the playoffs even started, and the returning Blizzard players are looking to get another chance. Last week, the Blizzard hosted 45 players in tryout scrimmages to iron out the 2020-21 roster. While the full list won't be released until the season comes around in early October, Blizzard fans will be excited to see some familiar faces.
"Most of the guys that are coming back this year were out here this week," head coach Jeff Crouse said. "Guys like Carter Rieland and Austin McNeil looked really good. I always lean on the veteran guys to lead the way. And I'm also pleased with the young talent I've got here."
With the COVID-19 virus closing the borders, some kids that would've gone up to Canada for junior hockey opportunities are now staying in the United States. Crouse said that he had more of his tendered and drafted players come to the tryout this year than ever before.
Where the border restrictions hurt the Blizzard is the potential for two returning players coming back to Alexandria. Czechoslovakian forward Michal Trejbal and Finnish goaltender Ville Hyttinen were crucial fixtures for the Blizzard last season, but aren't allowed back in the states under current travel regulations.
The Blizzard will play its first game on Oct. 2, with the full schedule coming out in the coming weeks. While the NA3HL plans to play an adjusted season, the Minnesota State High School League winter season is still uncertain, leaving high school hockey players with decisions to make. At this year's tryout, high school players outside of Alexandria suited up to try to earn a spot on the team.
"We have guys from Fergus Falls and Prairie Centre on the team this year, and who knows they might be here the whole season with the high school season up in the air," Crouse said. "I consider those kids local. I want to keep helping younger guys prepare for the next level. If there's talent there, I'm going to find it. We always want the local talent when we can get it."
Like every year, some hometown kids will play for the Blizzard. Bailey Rosch is back for his second year in net and had a great tryout week.
Wyatt Blahosky and Shane Birkeland look to make an impact on the defensive end. There are some Alexandria high school players, including Josiah Gronholz and Pieter Mulder, that plan on getting ice time with the Blizzard as well.
Players report to training camp in mid-September this year after the NA3HL announced the season would start two weeks late. Teams will play in-division games, which will be different for the West Division this season after the Breezy Point Northstars folded.
"As of right now, we haven't heard anything about the playoffs changing, so it looks like only one team from the West won't make it," Crouse said. "Coulee Region and Skyland also folded, and I actually tendered two players out of Skyland. They aren't going to do anything to the West division, so we play every team 10 times. There is a showcase in December, but we dropped our games in Milwaukee."
Billet homes wanted
The Blizzard is also looking for billet homes to house the players. Sandy Bessingpas, the billet director, said that families get food stipends, season tickets and discounted merchandise. There is an overnight rule where families are required to stay overnight while the players are home. For more information about becoming part of the Alexandria Blizzard family, head to www.alexandriablizzard.com and click on Billet Info to learn about signing up.
When October rolls around, Crouse hopes the Blizzard picks up where it left off.
"I think there's going to be a lot of guys who are really hungry to make a name for themselves," Crouse said. "It's hard to say what this season is going to be like, but I really liked what I saw this week from the guys that came out here."