Ice Hawks Looking to Rebuild

Jason Feldman, jfeldman@postbulletin.com Jun 5, 2017 Updated Jun 5, 2017

The Rochester Ice Hawks had a number of factors work against them early last season: A very young team, a coaching change and struggles to win games.

By the time the Ice Hawks started building some momentum, it was too late to climb out of fourth place in the North American 3 Hockey League Central Division. That meant a first-round playoff matchup with perennial league power North Iowa, which the Bulls swept 2-0.

Nearly half of the Ice Hawks’ players from last season’s 10-36-1 team are back in Rochester this weekend, along with a dozen or so new faces, to participate in the team’s pre-draft training camp. And the Hawks’ coaching staff is demanding fresh and forward-looking attitudes from its players.

“We’re trying to generate some excitement among the boys and some old, lingering attitudes can’t exist to start next season,” Ice Hawks head coach Eric Hofmann said. “These guys are really coming along in that way; they’re seeing that we’re moving in a different direction.”

The Ice Hawks have close to 25 players in town this weekend, for three on-ice sessions, which include scrimmages and practicing, as well as off-ice classroom work and tours of the city and the local sports medicine facilities where the team works out.

The final on-ice session was scheduled for 9 a.m. today.

“The No. 1 thing we’re trying to do is just generate that excitement with the new players, the veterans, the coaching staff,” said Hofmann, who will enter his second season as the team’s head coach. “We want to show the new guys what we have to offer and what Rochester has to offer. We want them excited about Ice Hawks hockey.”

Among the top returning players at camp are forwards Alex Tarr, Austyn Renn and Sam Bjellum. A handful of returning players — as well as four of the five tenders the team has signed — are absent this week for various reasons.

The NA3HL Draft is scheduled for June 13, and the Hawks will add another 10-12 players to their current lineup, and that will be the group of players that comes to Rochester in late August for the team’s main training camp.

“Our goal may be lofty, but we want to go into the season with 25 skaters,” Hofmann said, indicating that the team could scratch six or seven skaters each game night. “Right now, we’re on pace for that.”

Hofmann said the team will be taking a close look at its defensive corps, where the Hawks are in need of bodies. Their top blue-liner from last season, Ethan Sievek, tendered with the Bismarck Bobcats of the North American Hockey League. He played four games with Bismarck last season.

Rochester will also work closely with the NAHL’s Austin Bruins and their new coaching staff to watch for the borderline players who could shuttle between the Tier II NAHL and Tier III NA3HL during the season.

“We’ll work a little closer with some of the relationships we have,” Hofmann said. “We’ll look at some of those borderline guys and if they don’t make the Bruins or (an NA team), and they can play here, help us and be just 40 minutes away from an NA team.”