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Move to 'D' has rejuvenated Rochester Grizzlies rookie standout Mason Thingvold

The Rochester Grizzlies' coaching staff liked Mason Thingvold as a forward, but they saw pieces of his game they thought would make him a better fit elsewhere. At the beginning of January, Thingvold made the move to the blue line and the Grand Forks, N.D., native has found a home there.

Mason Thingvold Grizzlies.jpg
Mason Thingvold

Mason Thingvold was a bit frustrated with himself and with his offensive production as the third month of his rookie season of junior hockey churned on.

The Rochester Grizzlies’ rookie forward had recorded four points in his first six games of the season, but it took him more than two months to get his fifth.

All the while, the Grizzlies’ coaching staff kept seeing signs that Thingvold, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound forward, could be a breakout player for the reigning North American 3 Hockey League Central Division champions.

The Grizzlies were in Wausau, Wis., on Jan. 2, their first game of 2021, when coaches Chris Ratzloff, Mike Aikens and Austin Balko ran an idea past their skilled forward.

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“We were talking, strategizing, and coach brought it up to me, ‘hey, we want to see you at (defense),’” Thingvold said. “They said ‘you’re a big guy, you see the ice well, let’s try it.’ They put me back there and it was … it just kind of clicked for me and coach said they thought it clicked, too.”

Things haven’t stopped clicking for Thingvold since. He hasn’t filled a void on Rochester’s blue line as much as he has added another offensive weapon to the team’s back end.

Thingvold’s frustration has eased and his offense has returned. The Grand Forks, N.D., native — who helped lead Red River High School to a North Dakota state championship last season — has six points in his past six games for the Grizzlies (22-4-1), who have an important regular-season series this weekend at Peoria, the team on their heels in the NA3HL Central standings.

“He has such good hockey sense and decision-making that up front he’s a pretty good forward,” Grizzlies assistant coach Mike Aikens said, “but you take a guy like that and put him on the blue line, and now you have something kind of special.

“He’s really good at breaking pucks out of our own end. He can make the subtle little plays that guys who have hockey sense can make. He’s a pretty good defender for just being thrown back there. He does a lot of good stuff.”

That Thingvold is even in Rochester is a silver lining for the Grizzlies amid the year-long COVID-19 pandemic. Thingvold was committed to playing for the Winkler Flyers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, but the pandemic put the start of the MJHL season in question, and there were concerns about players from the U.S. being allowed to cross the U.S.-Canada border.

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That left Thingvold searching for a place to play. A Grizzlies scout had seen him play and offered him an opportunity to come to Rochester’s main tryout camp last summer. Thingvold and his mom hopped in the car and made the seven-hour drive to Rochester, which ended up being worth every minute spent in the car.

And the Grizzlies had a talented two-way player dropped in their laps.

“He’s been great,” Grizzlies captain Peyton Hart said of Thingvold. “Among our rookies, he’s been one of our best leaders. He’s big, tall, fast, has a long stick, so that helps us defensively. He’s just a great guy all-around and has definitely helped out in getting our rookies acclimated to what they’re supposed to be doing and filling their roles.”

The 19-year-old Thingvold scored 31 goals and 66 points in 78 high school games against quality competition, as many eastern North Dakota teams will play a schedule filled with Section 8 opponents from Minnesota, such as Roseau, Warroad and East Grand Forks. Aikens said he has no question that Thingvold could play well at a higher level, whether that’s a higher level of junior hockey or in college.

“He’ll play some level of college hockey, it’s just a matter of where and what level, but there’s a lot there to like,” Aikens said. “He’s a good kid, works hard, he’s a good teammate and he’s shown good leadership for a first-year player. He’s stepped up in that regard, stepped forward and taken that leadership upon himself.”

On top of that, Thingvold has been rejuvenated by a position switch six weeks ago.

“When I got switched back to ‘D’ it was a new start for me,” he said. “When I switched back there and started getting more points and kind of helping guide the team and making the team better, it helps.

“I guess I don’t know that I’d say I’ve solidified my spot. I don’t think that way. Spots are never guaranteed. I just have to keep working hard and building at practice every day."

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