Blizzard junior hockey team skates into town, looking to make mark

Marcus Traxler


Brookings has built itself up as a hockey town and now they have the team to show it off.

On April 23, the city of Brookings, the Blizzard Hockey Organization and the Brookings Ice Skating Association announced that they have reached a three-year deal to bring Tier II junior hockey to the city. The team, which will be called the Brookings Blizzard, will begin North American Hockey League play in September 2012 and will play at Larson Ice Arena, coming to Brookings after nine years in Alexandria, Minn.

The NAHL is Tier II in the ranks of junior hockey in the U.S. Tier I includes the United States Hockey League, which includes the Sioux Falls Stampede. A lower-level Tier III team will replace the Blizzard in Alexandria. Players ages 16-20 from around the nation and around the world join the league and take high school classes on the road. The season starts when players arrive around Labor Day and the 23-27 players, who stay with host families, will stay until at least April. The slate is 60 games long and there will be 28 home games in Brookings. Conversations started in July about bringing a team to Brookings with both the city and ownership courting each other for a while.

“We think junior hockey can come to this town and survive in this town long-term,” Blizzard co-owner Chris Canavati said, who owns the franchise with his brother Mitri. “We know that teams come and go and we’ve taken the time to study the Brookings market and make sure that it will work long-term. We don’t ever want to leave.”

Canavati said that teams in Sioux Falls and Aberdeen have shown that junior hockey in South Dakota can work and Brookings’ population and community support are the main reasons why they have confidence. In addition to Aberdeen, other Midwest teams include Austin, Minn., Bismarck and Minot, N.D. The five teams will play in the Central Division of the league and the Blizzard have had success in recent years. At Alexandria in 2011-12, the Blizzard finished with 40 wins, 15 losses and five overtime losses (like the NHL, there’s no ties; the games go straight to a shoot). With 85 points, they are seven behind division champion Bismarck.

The team said that they will start to market themselves more aggressively soon and will likely work on adding areas for parties and groups to take in the action. Brookings City Manager Jeff Wheldon confirmed that alcohol will be sold during Blizzard games and that it will likely be confined to a portion of the 2,000-seat arena, with consumption limited to one side of the arena. Canavati said that alcohol is only a part of the experience and the team is not going to market around that aspect. That said, he wants to make a point of reaching a unique fanbase of SDSU students, who  have supported the school’s two club teams over the years. He said that the franchise would be open to partnerships and hands-on experience for students at the school.

“We think that South Dakota State is very important to our success. It’s a high level of hockey and we think that the entertainment value is excellent,” Canavati said. “The university will also open up some new opportunities for us and will allow our players to take classes from the university, which we couldn’t do before.”

The Blizzard’s head coach is Doc DelCastillo, who is entering his fourth season coaching the franchise. He has coached Division I hockey as an assistant at St. Cloud State and at Nebraska-Omaha. DelCastillo says that fans will be impressed with the level of hockey that is played, where most of the players will play some sort of college hockey, either at Division I or Division III.

“It’s an entertaining brand of hockey. We’ll get up and down the ice and we’ll play physical. This is going to be a tough ticket to get. Once we start playing, it’s going to be tough to get in here and I would tell [the fans] to get season tickets to make sure they have a seat,” DelCastillo said.

Ticket prices have not been set but Canavati said that they would be similar to others in the league, which would put them in the $10 range. Despite the crowded nature of the arena and adding another tenant, the city recognizes the importance of the highly-popular SDSU club hockey teams.

“They’ll continue to be an important partner with us,” Weldon said of the Jacks’ teams. “Getting college activity from the campus [to attend Blizzard games] will help their interests and ultimately help all of the ventures at the arena.”