Grizzlies vs Chill Hockey

Rochester Grizzlies forward Peyton Hart (23) awaits a pass during a game against Coulee Region last season. Hart is one of a handful of Grizzlies who spent last week practicing and playing with NAHL teams. (PB file photo by Andrew Link / alink@postbulletin.com)

Michael Heitkamp had to do a quick double-take after a game last Wednesday.

"It was a little different seeing some of my teammates cheering for me when we (beat them)," the Rochester Grizzlies defenseman said.

Heitkamp is one of three Grizzlies who spent last week practicing and playing with teams in the North American Hockey League, one step up from the league the Grizzlies belong to, the North American 3 Hockey League.

And Heitkamp's call-up by the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness just happened to come at a time when the Wilderness faced the Austin Bruins. The Bruins and Grizzlies are owned by the same owners, Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, and will often send players and coaches to each other's practices.

So, Heitkamp was quite familiar with the arena, and the players on the opposite side when the Wilderness beat the Bruins 2-1 at Riverside Arena. He didn't have any points or shots on goal in the game, but he did get in the box score in the third period, when he was called for a cross-checking minor penalty.

"It was a lot of fun," Heitkamp said. "It was a little different playing against (the Bruins) instead of (with them).

"You notice the little things are the biggest difference (in the NAHL), the passes are always right on the tape. The speed of the game, it didn't feel too fast for me."

 

Two of Heitkamp's teammates with the Grizzlies, defenseman Logan Olson and forward Peyton Hart, were called up to practice and play with the Bruins. Olson played in the Bruins' 4-3 shootout win at Minot on Friday, and Hart played in Austin's 5-4 loss at Minot on Saturday.

"(Bruins assistant) coach Kenny (Orlando) looked at me before that (Saturday) game and said ‘you ready to go?’" Hart said. "I said 'yessir' and I used my time there to do everything I could. It was a great experience and I was very, very excited and appreciative."

Hart spent training camp with the Janesville (Wis.) Jets of the NAHL, but he didn't get into a game with them. Saturday's game marked his first game experience in the NAHL.

 

"Even if it was a little bit, it was really cool to be part of different setting, see how the bench works, how the game works, just the whole NA setting, it was very very cool," he said.

 

The Grizzlies were idle last weekend — a rare weekend off in a long NA3HL season — which allowed six Grizzlies to practice or play with NAHL teams. Olson, Hart and Rochester's leading scorer Joey Fodstad were with the Bruins, Heitkamp and forward Clayton Shultz practiced with the Minnesota Wilderness, and Grizzlies forward Devin Hays practiced with Corpus Christi (Texas).

 

"The main thing, it says the guys are working hard and are getting noticed by different coaches," Grizzlies head coach Chris Ratzloff said. "What they're doing in practice and what they're doing in games is paying off."

 

Rochester is back in action this weekend, hosting NA3HL Central Division rivals Peoria on Friday and Milwaukee on Saturday. Both games are set to begin at 7 p.m. at the Rochester Recreation Center. All six of the Grizzlies who practiced with NAHL teams last week are back in Rochester.

 

"We talk to different coaches all the time about different players and hoping for opportunities for them to go practice (with NAHL teams)," Ratzloff said, "and hopefully some nights we get that call at 11:30 saying 'hey, can you send this guy up here.'

 

"I think it helps the guys understand that they need to play at that level while they're here."

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