Fall hockey program comes to southern Minnesota
So much of becoming great at any sport is what you do outside of practice and now, thanks to the creation of the Southern Minnesota Bears U16 and U18 teams, there’ll be another way for local boy hockey players to develop their game.
Mike Cooper and Craig Patrick, owners of the North American Hockey League’s (NAHL) and the North American 3 Hockey League’s Grizzlies, announced the creation of these new teams on Wednesday, June 10.
Austin native Mike Notermann will coach the teams, but Austin Bruins coach Steve Howard, Rochester Grizzlies coach Chris Ratzloff and other members of the Bruins’ and Grizzlies’ staff will also help the Bears.
Notermann played for the United States Hockey League’s (USHL) Waterloo Black Hawks from 1985 to 1987 before he played for St. Cloud State University.
“We’re looking forward to him taking the reins,” Howard said.
He said the U16 and U18 teams will practice together for over 20 hours on Monday and Wednesday nights starting in mid-August and ending in mid-October before the high school hockey starts in November.
He said the training portion of these new teams will help high school skaters in a variety of ways. “It will get them on the ice and learn from what we like our players to do, get them used to that fast-paced style, which hopefully carries over into their high school season, and get them in mid-season form by the time November hits,” he said.
In addition to getting in better shape, Ratzloff said the skaters will work on a lot of skill development, specifically their skating, puck handling, passing, shooting and small area concepts.
“Their overall development and getting them prepared for the high school is the goal of the program,” he said.
Another benefit of playing for these U16 and U18 teams, Howard said, is it gives high school skaters an avenue to get some exposure before the high school season
The Bears will get that exposure by playing in front of NAHL and USHL scouts as well as NCAA coaches at three tournaments: The Wilderness Labor Day Tournament, the NAHL Showcase and the NAPHL Showcase.
Just because skaters participate in the training portion doesn’t mean they have to be available for all three tournaments, they can opt out of one, two or all three tournaments.
Ratzloff said each team will be able to bring between 16 and 20 skaters to each tournament.
Given the competitiveness of earning a spot on those teams, Howard said there will be some skaters that aren’t picked for the tournament teams.
“It’s for the serious hockey players,” he said.
While there will be serious competition for a sport on the tournament teams, he said any kid that plays high school hockey will be able to participate in the training portion.
Through the training portion and tournaments, Howard said these teams will give the Bruins and Grizzlies coaches an opportunity to find some of the local talent so they can someday play for the Bruins or Grizzlies.
Ratzloff sees these team as a way to level the playing field between high school skaters in the Twin Cities and those from southern Minnesota.
“A lot of kids in southern Minnesota don’t get a chance to develop and be seen by junior coaches and college coaches,” he said. “Hopefully, the number of kids who continue to play after high school will continue to grow and their transition to junior hockey will be easier.”
On top of preparing them to play hockey after high school, he said the skaters will also like getting to know other local hockey players.
“What we’ve seen in the past is the thing they enjoy the most is playing with players they typically compete against and building those relationships,” he said.
In summary, Ratzloff said these new teams will help the coaches and the players.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to help with the development of southern Minnesota kids, hopefully make a difference and give them an opportunity they might not otherwise get,” he said.