The Rochester Grizzlies coaching staff might need to keep a roster handy on the bench this weekend as the team opens defense of its North American 3 Hockey League Central Division championship with a two-game series at Central Division rival Oregon (Wis.).
The Grizzlies' roster has turned over to the point that the coaches may need help remembering who's who.
Nearly 75 percent of Rochester's players are new to the team and/or the NA3HL. That hasn't changed expectations within the team, though. The Grizzlies' goals are the same as they were at the start of last season: Win the Central Division regular season title, win the division postseason title, get back to the Fraser Cup national tournament and the championship game, which the Grizzlies reached last season before falling 5-1 to perennial NA3HL power North Iowa.
Rochester will need to rely heavily on newcomers in order to accomplish those goals this season, so here's a look at six of those newcomers who could play key roles in the team's success in 2021-22:
Kyle Bauer, forward
The Hastings native looked sharp in the Austin Bruins' tryout camp back last month and, though he didn't make the roster of the NAHL club, he impressed not only the Bruins' coaches, but the Grizzlies' coaches, too. Bauer, who is expected to step right into a top-line role in Rochester with Justin Wright and Adam Johnson, played three seasons for Hastings' varsity team and had 35 points in 45 games over his past two seasons. The 5-foot-11, 165-pound Bauer played with the Bruins last weekend in a pair of preseason games.
Max Breon, forward
A graduate of the Blake School in Minneapolis, Breon is a well-traveled hockey player. The 6-foot, 165-pound right-shot forward played two years of high school hockey in Texas, from 2016-18, followed by two seasons at Wayzata High (2018-20) before finishing his high school career last season at Breck. He put up 12 points in 18 games for the Bears in 2020-21. Breon is in the mix to be a top-six forward in Rochester, slotting in on the second line with veteran Cole Gibson and fellow newcomer Austin Meers. Breon's combination of size and skill could lead to special teams ice time for the 19-year-old, too.
Adam Johnson, forward
The 6-foot, 170-pound Johnson not only brings a sought-after combination of size, skill and goal-scoring ability, but he brings great leadership abilities to the Grizzlies, too. Johnson played the past three seasons at Mahtomedi High School, leading the Zephyrs in scoring each of the past two seasons. He proved over the past two seasons that he can adjust his game to do what the team needs; in his junior season (2019-20), Johnson led the team in assists (32) and points (49). Last season, as a senior, he was named the team's captain and led it in goals (13) and points (30). The Grizzlies coaches like how Johnson has meshed with Wright and Bauer so far, and that trio will start the season as the team's second line.
Jake Laurila, defenseman
The 19-year-old Laurila, who grew up in Milwaukee, has the potential to be the Grizzlies' top defenseman. At 5-9, 175 pounds, Laurila will likely be expected to eat a lot of ice time and play in all situations, from five-on-five to the power play and the penalty kill. While he is a bit undersized by today's standard for defensemen, Laurila has the ability to control the flow of the game by possessing the puck, making smart decisions and moving it from end to end when needed by taking advantage of his outstanding skating ability. He played the past four seasons in the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals AAA Midget program, including the past two seasons at the 18U level, where produced 59 points in 132 games.
Austin Meers, forward
The St. Charles, Mo., native has spent the past two seasons playing Duchesne High School in Missouri, as well as for the St. Louis-based CarShield 18U AAA Midget program. The 6-foot, 165-pound left-shot forward produced 117 points in 57 games played in his four seasons of high school hockey in Missouri. He produced at the AAA level, too, scoring 20 goals and adding 49 assists in 109 games played for CarShield. Meers is holding down a top-six forward role to start the season, playing on special teams and alongside linemates Cole Gibson and Max Breon.
Matthew Shaw, defenseman
The 6-foot, 185-pound Shaw is another puck-moving, offense-creating, versatile blue-liner for the Grizzlies. The White Lake, Mich., native, who turned 19 in July, spent last season with the Florida Jr. Blades in the USPHL. He showed his combination of skill and physicality with the Blades, scoring nine goals and adding 10 assists, while racking up 66 penalty minutes in 25 games. "He's a guy we'll lean on a lot during the year," Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said.