KIMT NEWS 3 SPORTS – Two area teams have joined forces to become two of the best in junior hockey.
Junior hockey in Austin dates back to the 1970s with the Austin Mavericks. They later became known as the Austin Bruins in 2010. What would happen just a few years later the owners weren’t even in the market for.
“This opportunity got presented to us by the league a couple years ago and we weren’t even in the market to get into the NA3, but after talking it over with our staff at the time we realized what a great opportunity it would be,” said Mike Cooper, Co-Owner of the Austin Bruins and Rochester Grizzlies.
When the Minnesota Junior Hockey League collapsed, the Rochester Ice Hawks were left scrambling to find a league. They would join the North American Tier III Hockey league. The ownership was later transferred to Cooper and Craig Patrick, owners of the Austin Bruins. They would rename and rebrand the team into what is now known as the Rochester Grizzlies.
Brian Schulz, the President of Business Operations for the organization says the new arrangement gives players a leg up on the competition.
“By having a NA3 team 40 minutes down the road it’s a huge competitive advantage for us in terms of business, shared resources, and it’s also a huge recruiting advantage for our players.”
Having a Tier III team under the same ownership allows players to get on the ice with tougher competition. Once the Austin coaches conclude a player is ready and there’s an opening, that player can move up quickly while still playing the same type of system.
“Bottom line is that’s what we’re here for whether it’s to advance players to the NAHL or to college,” said Grizzlies head coach, Chris Ratzloff.
Grizzly players have been reaping the benefit this year with players being part of eight games so far with the Bruins.
Peyton Hart has embraced the opportunity.
“It’s a great experience for sure,” Hart said. “I’m definitely getting to a faster pace of play and knowing what’s different between up there and down here in Rochester.”
Teammate Matt DeRosa has also spent time with the Bruins. Getting on the ice with superior players is what his heart desires.
“You kind of get stagnant,” he said. “You see the same pace and you kind of play at the same pace but when you have to up your game, you kind of step back and you're like, ‘wow, I can play faster. I should play faster.’ You bring that back to Rochester and it just makes the entire experience so much better.”
Like the players, the coaches are learning from this partnership on the ice.
“We learn from each other on drills and maybe some of the things that they’re focused on to try to get some wins. Those are the important things that we’re trying to do here, too,” said Bruins head coach, Steve Howard.
Cooper believes over time the NAHL would like more teams to do what the Grizzlies and Bruins are doing.
“It’s another great avenue for young players to develop at the junior level.”
The Bruins and Grizzlies are both back in action on Jan. 10. The Grizzlies host Milwaukee at 7 pm, and the Bruins host St. Cloud at 7:05 PM.