ROCHESTER, Minn. – In just their third year in existence, the Rochester Grizzlies organization earned the highest award bestowed by the NA3HL, being named the league’s Organization of the Year.
Purchased by co-owners Mike Cooper and Craig Patrick before the 2018-19 season from the former owners of the Rochester Ice Hawks, the Grizzlies steadily improved on and off the ice in their first few seasons. After a first-round loss in their inaugural year, a feat to make the playoffs in year-one in itself, Rochester not only pushed their first players into the collegiate ranks but saw their first coaching promotion when Head Coach Casey Mignone departed for an Assistant Coaching position with the NAHL’s St. Cloud Blizzard.
Head Coach Chris Ratzloff took the helm in 2019-20 and oversaw a division realignment that brought the Grizzlies to the Central Division. One of the best teams in the league during that year, winning the NA3HL Central Division title in their first season as a member of the six-team division, Ratzloff and his Grizzlies’ were disappointed to have the playoffs wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not allowing the black-and-gold to mix it up with the best the NA3HL has to offer.
Following a tumultuous off-season with plenty of uncertainty regarding what a 2020-21 season would even look like, the Grizzlies picked up right where they left off a season ago. After winning their second consecutive Central Division title, the Grizzlies took care of business in the playoffs against teams like St. Louis, Peoria, Sheridan, Texas, and Oklahoma City, en route to a showdown with their former division rivals the North Iowa Bulls in the NA3HL Fraser Cup Final. Despite falling short in their ultimate goal, the Grizzlies had plenty to be proud of as one of the league’s best teams for the past two years, in just their third season in existence. On Monday, individual player awards came rolling in for Rochester which proved that point. Peyton Hart was named the Central Division Forward of the Year and MVP, Shane Soderwall was honored with the Central Division Goaltender of the Year, Jameson Folden the NA3HL Central Division Community Service Award, and TJ Norris with the Central Division Academic Award. In addition, the Grizzlies placed four players on the All-Central Division Team including Hart, Soderwall, Matt DeRosa, and Blake Arneson.
In the process of their success, the Grizzlies saw six total players announce their collegiate hockey intentions and also lost their second coach as Mike Aikens, who had been with the Grizzlies since 2018-19, announced that he had accepted the Head Coach job with the NAHL’s newest team the Anchorage Wolverines.
As far as league awards go, the Grizzlies took home plenty of hardware on Tuesday. Not only were they the Organization of the Year, but Peyton Hart was honored as the NA3HL Forward of the Year and overall MVP, while Shane Soderwall was named the NA3HL’s Goaltender of the Year, and Head Coach Chris Ratzloff took home the NA3HL Coach of the Year honor.