By Mick Hatten
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Another hockey option has been added to the St. Cloud metro area.
The North American Hockey League made it official on Monday, June 3, when it announced that its Board of Governors has approved the relocation of the Brookings (S.D.) Blizzard to St. Cloud, Minn. The NAHL is a Tier II junior hockey league.
The team, which will be called the St. Cloud Blizzard, will play in the NAHL’s Central Division and the team will have its offices and play its home games at the Municipal Athletic Complex. The Blizzard played last season in the Central Division, which also includes the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings, Minot (S.D.) Minotauros, Bismarck (N.D.) Bobcats, Austin (Minn.) Bruins and Minnesota (Cloquet) Wilderness. Aberdeen recently won the NAHL’s Robertson Cup as its playoff champion.
The Blizzard will be the fourth NAHL team in the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota (Richfield) Magicians play in the NAHL’s Midwest Division.
“We have enjoyed the past seven years in Brookings. It is a great town with passionate fans and a great facility. However, there were some things beyond our control that made it necessary to consider a new home. We felt like the relocation to St. Cloud gives us the best chance as an organization to continue to be competitive in the NAHL and the Central Division,” Blizzard owner Chris Canavati said in an NAHL news release.
“The relocation provides the team with the best option to be successful on and off the ice moving forward in a quality venue with enhanced access to scouts and a deep player pool, which includes closer proximity to many of the teams in the NAHL family of leagues,” NAHL Commissioner Mark Frankenfeld said in the release.
The Municipal Athletic Complex includes two sheets of ice. The Blizzard will play at Dave Torrey Arena, which has a seating capacity of 2,100.
The MAC is planning a $24 million expansion to the facility with approximately $12 million allotted for the arena, which opened with one sheet of ice in 1972. The rink expansion would provide space for additional locker room facilities, meeting rooms, offices and dry land training areas.
The MAC was previously the home of the Granite City Lumberjacks. The Lumberjacks, who are members of the Tier III NA3HL junior hockey league, moved to Sauk Rapids, which borders the east side of St. Cloud.
The MAC is also the home to the Cathedral boys hockey team, the St. Cloud Icebreakers girls hockey team, the College of St. Benedict hockey team, the St. Cloud Youth Hockey Association and the St. Cloud Figure Skating Club.
The MAC was previously the home ice for the St. Cloud State men’s hockey team and St. John’s hockey team until both moved across town to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on SCSU’s campus when that arena opened in 1989.
The Blizzard had a tough season on the ice and in attendance in 2018-19. Brookings finished with the worst record in the 24-team league at 11-44-3-2-2. The Blizzard averaged 464 fans-per-game, which was 20th in the league. The league average for home attendance last season was 1,207.
The team is coached by former NHL player Moe Mantha, who has coached the team the last two seasons. Mantha played in the NHL from 1980-92 with the Winnipeg Jets, Pittsburgh Penguins, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota North Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.
Canavati also owns two teams in the NA3HL: the Alexandria Blizzard and the Willmar Warhawks. The NAHL franchise began as the Alexandria Blizzard in 2003 before Canavati moved the team to Brookings in 2012. When he moved the NAHL team there, he got an expansion NA3HL team to take its place in Alexandria.
The level of play in the NAHL continues to rise. In 2017-18, the league had 224 players commit (an average of 9.3 per team) to NCAA Division I programs. The NAHL trailed only the Tier I United States Hockey League for most alums on Division I rosters in 2018-19.
The Blizzard had six Division I recruits on their roster last season. Chase Brand, a Park Rapids High School (Minn.) graduate, recently de-committed to Miami and committed to St. Cloud State. Brand played for the Blizzard from 2016-18.