Grizzlies Get Thrown Right into the Fire

Sep 17, 2018

Article by Post Bulletin – Jason Feldman 9/16/2018

Casey Mignone couldn’t have set the Rochester Grizzlies’ schedule up better if he had made it himself.

The head coach of Rochester’s new North American 3 Hockey League franchise wants to know what his team is made of from the first drop of the puck.

He’ll find out today, when the Grizzlies play the first game in franchise history at the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena in Sauk Rapids against league powerhouse Granite City at 7:30 p.m. Granite City won the NA3HL West Division regular season and playoff championships last year, and has won the NA3HL championship in three of the past seven seasons.

“I like playing a team like (Granite City) on opening weekend,” said Mignone, whose Grizzlies went 1-1 in preseason games. “It’s like ‘here’s the bar they’ve set.’ We think we’re OK because we won our last game and played all right, but this will be a real test and I like to have those early.”

The Lumberjacks have eight players back from last season’s team that went 33-14-0 and reached the national semifinals. Included in the group of returners is former Rochester Lourdes defenseman Sean Salz, who had 21 points in 49 games last season.

“It’s better to not ease into it,” Mignone said. “We want to know exactly where we stand, so I’m looking forward to going up there and playing those guys.”

The Grizzlies are the former Rochester Ice Hawks franchise, which was purchased in April by Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, who also own the Austin Bruins franchise of the North American Hockey League. They rebranded the team as the Grizzlies and brought in a new front office and a new coaching staff, including assistant coach Mike Aikens, a Rochester native and former USHL head coach.

Mignone and Aikens have assembled a roster that includes just six players who are 19 or 20 years old. The Grizzlies also have just one player on the roster who was part of last year’s Ice Hawks team – 17-year-old forward Josh Hoffman, who led the Ice Hawks with 13 goals and 21 points last season.

“We want to work hard and be hard to play against,” Mignone said. “We know we’re going to still make some mistakes, but we want to try to get better every day.”

Veterans Seth Bacon and Kory Potach have taken the reins as leaders early on. The pair of 20-year-olds both have junior hockey experience and both have ties to southeastern Minnesota. Potach grew up in Austin and played high school hockey for the Packers before spending last season with the Owatonna-based Steele County Blades. Bacon spent last season with the Austin Bruins.

“They’ve been really good. They’ve set the tone,” Mignone said. “I hold those two guys to a higher standard. If they’re messing up a drill or something, I kind of get on them more because we want our young guys to look to them. But in the (locker) room, the bus, the way we want to carry ourselves, they’ve done a really, really good job and I’m happy with those guys.”

Potach (6-feet, 170 pounds) will lead the way up front for the Grizzlies, while Bacon (5-11, 186) will anchor the blue line. In goal, the Grizzlies will give both Liam Kelly and Maxim Closer close looks early in the season. Each of them played one preseason game and Mignone said he was happy with the way they played.

“They were both really good. We were much better in front of Liam than we were Max,” Mignone said. “Liam was really good, made a handful of really good saves. Max made a numerous amount of really good saves because we were not as good defensively in front of him.

“They’ve battled and we’re still up in the air with who’s going to start. It’ll be back and forth between the two early in the season.”