Tuesday, March 29, 2011

NAHL Comes To Minot

The North American Hockey League is expanding to Minot.

The league, which had 26 junior hockey teams under its banner last season, announced on Monday that it will add a team in Minot.

Named the Minotauros (Tauros), the team is set to begin play in the 2011-12 season and will call Maysa Arena its home.

"We couldn't be happier to welcome the Tauros to our league," said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld in a release on the NAHL website. "Minot is a great addition to our Central Division footprint and, behind a sound, hockey-savvy ownership group committed to both the local community and player development, the Tauros represent everything the NAHL stands for, both on and off the ice."

The announcement is the culmination of a nine-month process, which started when Brad Porter showed initial interest in bringing a team to Minot last summer. The team will be owned by Heavy Metal Hockey Inc. and PlayForward Sports Groups Inc.

"Mr. Porter came into town 4-5-6 times, loved the facility and community," Maysa Arena manager Chuck Emery said. "The North American Hockey League did a very thorough background check to make sure (the ownership group) is the real deal. We've known it was going to happen for awhile, but until the league released it, we weren't allowed to say anything."

Emery said Porter is from Calgary and initially found out about Minot through his ventures in the oil business.

The Minot team will be coached by Benjamin J. Johnson, president of HMH. He will also serve as general manager.

Johnson coached the prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) prep school to back-to-back national championships and has also coached in Europe.

A Duluth, Minn., native, Johnson played for Duluth East High School and went on to play junior hockey in the United States Hockey League. He played two seasons in the Western Hockey League and competed for a Memorial Cup championship with the Spokane Chiefs in 1998. Johnson won a gold medal as a player with Team USA at the 2007 Deaf Olympics.

"We're very excited to join a premier league and re-establish a junior hockey presence in Minot," said Johnson on the league's website. "We share the NAHL's commitment to excellence, both on the ice and in the classroom. Our top priority is producing further opportunities for players to develop their skills, advance to the next level and, ultimately, become future leaders in their respective communities."

Former NHL player Marty Murray, Jarrod Olson, Terry Dunbar and Jason Blackburn will all assist Johnson in his coaching duties.

Emery expects the team to have a positive impact on the community, both fiscally and otherwise.

"It's going to be huge for the community," he said. "This will be good for the town and the rink. We're excited. It's been a long road. They said they recognize that Minot will support this and will be the place to be. I think it will succeed."

Minot will join the Central Division, which includes teams from Bismarck and Aberdeen (S.D.), as well as Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"They'll be in the same division as Bismarck," Emery said. "That Bismarck High/Minot High rivalry is great. I think this will just continue that."

Minot has had past junior teams. In 2000-01, the Minot Muskies played in the America West Hockey League, which later merged with the NAHL.

From 1994-97, the Minot Top Guns played in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Plans continue to move forward for adding a third sheet of ice at Maysa, with organizers hoping to consolidate all of Minot's hockey programs under one roof.

"We know as ice people, we have to be under one roof," Emery said. "We've had a disconnect for 10 years and it's hurt. We're really searching for someone to lead the fundraising. We know we have some people who are strong civic leaders and we're going to approach them and ask them to lead us."

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