Minot, ND – As we approach the tenth season of Minotauros hockey in the Magic City we will be taking time to look back at our history. We know that while we have some fans that have been with us for the entire ride, many are have not. If there is something from our history you would like for us to take a closer look at email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We started our series prior to the NAHL Supplemental Draft with a look at our NAHL Draft history. We continue our series with a look at players who came to Tauros tryout camps as free agents and made the team.
With the Tauros in the midst of their tenth offseason there are several Tauros who have come to a camp as a free agent and earned their place on the roster. The most successful name is of course Blake Lizotte who just finished his rookie year with the Los Angeles Kings. Two more, Keenan Lund and David Raisanen just finished their freshmen years at NCAA DI Air Force and Michigan Tech respectively. Lastly three more Owen Baumgartner, Hunter Bjorge, and Ryan Petersen, all just completed their first season as Tauros.
Tauros Assistant General Manager Chris Lonke pointed to a few reasons why quality players can slip through the cracks. First, he explained, “finding players whose game might transfer to the Junior level better than their current midget/high school level is a huge key to find free agents.” Often a player can be overlooked both because of his role on his current team or his team/leagues standing in the youth hockey world. Scouts can only watch so many games after all. Another factor comes down to the player working to improve themselves, “having a very strong off-season before main camp.” The final factor that often leads to players getting a shot is rostered players along with “tenders or draft picks may end up in a different spot.” As players the coaching staff initially counted on make USHL teams, opt for Canadian Junior leagues, or underperform at camps it opens roster spots for players who may have been overlooked through the tender and draft process.
For free agent players coming into camp is a decision in and of itself, and each takes his own path. Bjorge “had a couple of offers to play in Canada but I thought I would go to the Tauros camp before I made my final decision.” Meanwhile Raisanen had “skated [in practice] with the Tauros for a week my senior year of high school,” so when he got the itch to play again after taking a year off from hockey to start college as a freshman, the Tauros camp made sense. Lund, on the other hand had spent the year before joining the Tauros skating in the NA3HL and “I was cut in Austin’s main camp the week before, so I’m glad the Tauros saw potential in me.”
For all of the free agents over the years who have earned a spot on the Tauros roster Lonke sees one common trait: “they just want it more.” He continued “they pay attention to details, they’re consistent, and they compete for 200 feet.”
Most of the players admitted to at least feeling some nervousness regarding their lack of status entering camp. Baumgartner said it was not just his free agent status but also his age that he thought might work against him, “[I] was a little nervous because I still hadn’t decided where I was going to play for the next season and I didn’t know if being as young as I was would make it harder to make the team.”
Similarly, Blake Lizotte was under 18 when he forced his way onto the Tauros roster. He however was not fazed at all by other players having a leg up “I didn’t really read into the whole drafted/tendered label too much. Although, it’s awesome to be drafted or tendered, it’s just a label. Once training camp starts, you have to earn the role you want – it doesn’t matter where you were drafted, if you are a tender, or you are a returning player.” That attitude has served Lizotte well as he overcame his undrafted free agent status to post 23 points in 65 games with the L.A. Kings as a rookie, his first season out of college.
Raisanen was also a bit unsure going into camp, but also knew there were spots to grab, “It was a little intimidating going into the camp knowing there were so many players already drafted and tendered, but Minot lost a lot of players from the year before so I thought I would have a good chance to make the team if I played well.”
The players we caught up with all agreed that it was a great feeling to finally make the team. For Lund it had been a goal he had been working towards for a few years, “It felt unbelievable, had been my goal for since high school to make the NAHL. I remember sprinting around my house after getting the phone call that I made the training camp roster.” Baumgartner also touched on another emotion that comes from finding a place to play, “it was a big relief to know where I am going and also I had heard such good things from everybody about the Tauros so I was happy to be going there.”
Of course, as Bjorge points out, the work does not stop at making the training camp roster and eventually the team; “anyone could get traded or sent down at any point so I always kind of had to keep my hard hat on and keep working throughout the whole year. I think it is kind of a good thing in the long run because it keeps you honest and helps you strive to get better every day when you come to the rink.”
Ultimately for those free agents who did earn a spot and move on to higher levels of play the decision to come to tryout out for the Tauros was a big first step. Lund said, “My time in Minot was great. The Maysa has the best atmosphere for junior hockey, plus the Tauros have an outstanding fan base. The NAHL Central prepared me for the pace and physicality in college hockey.” Raisanen added, “My time in Minot means a lot to me. I developed a lot as a player and as a person. It was a great experience working with everyone involved with the team, and playing in front of great crowds.”
Lizotte agreed that the NAHL prepared him for the rest of his career, “Playing for the Tauros was the first year where I realized I had a chance to not only play college hockey but also would possibly have a chance to play in the NHL someday. I think that was huge for my confidence. Physically, playing against 21 year old men was great for me, especially as a smaller player, I had to alter my game and find new ways to be effective that are still in my game today.”
Lund perhaps summed it up best, “it is intimidating coming into camp not drafted or tendered. However, after spending two seasons in Minot, it’s clear that nobody gets special treatment. If you can play, you’ll have the same opportunity.”