Blizzard delivers a new brand of hockey


Call it a “work in progress” for the Brookings Blizzard, both on the ice and off of it.

In their home debut, the newest show in town added two third period goals to knock off the Aberdeen Wings, 3-2, and sent their rowdy fans home quiet with a loss. With a few scuffles among players and a few more scores, the crowd of 1,020 seemed to be plenty entertained in the home debut at Larson Ice Center.

Head coach Cory Lavlin said his team certainly can play a lot better than they did, adding that his team will try to get 12 shots per period.

“Guys were excited with it being a first home game, but we got it going in the third period, and I think that says a lot about their character,” he said. “This is something we can build off.”

For Thomas Williams, who scored what would stand as the game-winning goal and played the last two seasons in Alexandria, Minn., the move to Brookings has worked out well.

“It’s been great. Guys are excited about the move, and it’s a great community,” Williams said.

The Blizzard have a window of opportunity to carve out some fans in what has become a busy sports landscape in the college town. Exactly how wide that window could be is yet to be known, but hockey is enough of a novelty in these parts that the honeymoon period could extend past this season.

At the same time, Brookings is a “hockey town” when it comes to South Dakota. The city’s strong hockey association was a help when the franchise was considering moving to Minnesota, and the city has a modern arena with great sight lines for hockey. If you don’t believe me, go watch a Stampede game at the Sioux Falls Arena.

Plus, the team’s mascot is a yeti. That alone should be selling season tickets.

It’s too early to know if the team will fly in Brookings, but there are a few qualifiers that fans should know about before they head out to a game:

It’s not club hockey

SDSU club hockey is well-liked by the campus community, but the level of play in the NAHL is much better and it’s not really close. Some of these players will play Division I hockey, while the rest will likely play Division III hockey.

Even I was fooled a bit by the quality of play. I expected a lot of scoring and a game that would finish 5-3 or 6-5, but both goaltenders played at a high level, including the 35 saves from Brookings goalie Drew Weigman to move the Blizzard to 4-1 in 2012. Brookings followed it up with a 2-0 win at Aberdeen at Saturday night.

As for the fans, a little “Hockey 101” may be in order. While the Aberdeen fans were at the ready with chants and Vuvuzelas to celebrate, Brookings’ new fans sat on their hands until the Blizzard found the score sheet in the first period with a Justin Moody power play goal.

There aren’t cheerleaders, but the hits, penalties and goals should be enough to permit cheers from the crowd.

It’s the minor leagues

The junior hockey system is very complex, so I’ll cut right through the extra stuff and let you know what the Blizzard are working with: It’s basically high school hockey being played under professional hockey rules. That means there’s fights. Brookings only plays four other teams all season, so when the Blizzard play Minot or Austin for the sixth time this year, you can count on tempers boiling over.

There’s beer for $4 a can but we’ve gone over that before. There’s ads on the player’s sweaters for area businesses and if you’re not careful, you might think the player’s name is “Choco Latte” instead of “Johnson.”

Plus, the officials have their names on the back of their uniforms. That’s like an invitation for you to berate them (within reason) and yell at them about the replacement refs.

There’s shenanigans

I mentioned the mascot already. During a first period timeout, he just slid around the ice with a garbage can to help clean up loose ice. Man, the Blizzard are making the mascot earn his pay. I didn’t even mention the 20 kids chasing him around the rink in the third period.

The second period break included two kids filling a shopping cart with pucks and racing to the end line before nearly impaling the dasher boards with the front of the cart. No injuries but a ton of fun to watch.

In the same period, the team played internet videos on the big screen of people crashing on their skateboards and doing typical “America’s Funniest Home Videos” stuff. That’s great when you’re killing time on YouTube; not so much when you’re waiting for the Zamboni to do its thing.

Of course, the Zamboni is still awesome and always will be.

It’s live hockey

With NHL gunning for another inexplicable lockout, it might be hard to get in front of some quality hockey this winter, while staying close to home.

You know what … never mind. I had you at the yeti, right?