Kory Potach and his teammates have a vision for the way they want their season to unfold.
It’s not about wins or losses for Potach and the Rochester Grizzlies — the new North American 3 Hockey League franchise in town — as much as it is about playing the game the right way.
“We need to build our identity as, when a team comes here to play a weekend (series) against us, they go ‘Oh, no, we have to play the Grizzlies,’” Potach, a 2017 Austin High School graduate said on Thursday. “We want to be that team. We want to show up to play a team at their rink and when they see us walk through the door they know it’s going to be a test.”
Potach is one of the “old guys” on a team that is fresh off the assembly line — from ownership to coaching staff to the youngest players on the roster, everything about the Grizzlies is new.
The franchise is the former Rochester Ice Hawks franchise, which was purchased in April by Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, the owners of the North American Hockey League team in Austin. They re-branded the franchise as the Grizzlies, and fans can get their first look at the new team Friday night, when they play host to Coulee Region at 7:05 p.m. at the Rochester Recreation Center in a preseason game. Tickets are $5 at the door.
“We do have a really young team, but we have a lot of grit, a lot of hard workers,” the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Potach said. “We’re ready to play a game and show Rochester what a new team can do.”
A NATURAL LEADER
Potach, a forward with two years of junior hockey experience, and defenseman Seth Bacon have been the Grizzlies’ natural leaders since fall camp opened nearly two weeks ago.
The pair of 20-year-olds — Potach turned 20 on Tuesday — have a combined 94 games of junior hockey experience, including Bacon’s 37 games with the Austin Bruins last season.
Potach spent all or parts of the past two seasons with the Steele County Blades (Owatonna) of the USPHL. He had 13 goals and 23 points in 44 games for the Blades a year ago, after scoring four goals in 13 games during the 2016-17 season, when he played with the Blades before and after his senior season of high school hockey. That experience that will greatly benefit him and the Grizzlies this season.
“I played for Steele County last year; it’s a great team, great organization, I just didn’t fit in very well,” he said. “Once I heard about (the Girzziles) I talked to my parents a little bit, talked to the Austin Bruins coaches. (Bruins assistant) coach Keenan Kelly had me sign a tender and it took off from there.
“He has known me and watched me play all through high school. He called me (about the Grizzlies) one day and I signed the tender 15 minutes later.”
The Bruins and Grizzlies have a somewhat unique relationship. As both teams are under the same ownership umbrella, the Bruins’ coaches often attend Grizzlies practices, and vice versa. Some players will also likely shuttle between the two teams this season due to injuries or quality of their play (the Bruins play in the NAHL, one tier higher than the Grizzlies and the NA3HL).
“I enjoy it a lot; it’s really good to come into a new program because you have to work your way to the top and find where you fit in,” Potach said. “With teams that have been around, they already have their players set from past seasons. They know who their top-line guys are, their power play and penalty kill guys.
“It’s all new guys here and a new staff; it’s a lot of fun to have to grind your way to the top.”
A TRIO OF PACKERS
Among the other new guys in the Grizzlies’ locker room are a pair of Potach’s high school teammates. Austin natives Dylan Svoboda and Bryar Flanders signed tenders with Grizzlies at approximately the same time Potach did last spring.
Svoboda led the Packers last season with 17 goals and 24 points, while Flanders was second on the team with 22 points.
Potach said he played on a line in high school at times with both Flanders and Svoboda, and they shared ice time on power-play and penalty-killing units.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a year since I played with them, but it’s always good to be on a team with some hometown guys,” Potach said. “We grew up playing together and it’s definitely a treat to have some guys you have some background with.
“They’re adjusting really well to junior hockey; it’s completely different from high school. It’s definitely more of a grind, but they’re two of the hardest working guys in the locker room. It might take them a few games to get going, but they’re doing great right now and I really like the work they’re putting in.”