24 in 24 Series: Brookings Blizzard
August 21, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Dan Daikawa (3rd year)
2015-16 record: 25-29-6, 56 pts. (4th in the Central Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Griff Jeszka (48 points)
2016 Playoffs: Lost to Bismarck in the Central Division Semi-Finals, 3 games to 1
2016-17 Division: Central
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 21st vs. Amarillo Bulls
Home opener: Friday, October 7th vs. Austin Bruins
The trend for the Brookings Blizzard under the watch of third-year head coach Dan Daikawa keeps going upward and last year was no exception. For the first time since the 2012-13 season, the Blizzard made the playoffs as they grabbed the 4th and final spot with some big wins down the stretch. While the Blizzard fell to the eventual division Champion Bismarck Bobcats in four games, they gave them a very competitive series and made some strides that have the team headed into the right direction headed into this season.
Daikawa said that while he was happy with the play down the stretch, one of the main concerns in the off-season was team defense, starting with the goaltending. The Blizzard were in the bottom 3rd last season in goals against, allowing 3.33 goals per game. The Blizzard used five different goalies at some point last season and Daikawa said it was the first thing he wanted to address. “I think we got some good play last year, especially down the stretch, but we knew heading into this season that we needed two new goalies, so we tried to address that,” said Daikawa. “We also needed to add a couple defensemen and have some potential players in the USHL, so there are some still some moving parts in some personnel decisions.”
The Blizzard begin the season at the NAHL Showcase with games against Amarillo, Kenai River, Corpus Christi and Springfield. After that, it is a 56-game grind in the Central Division and the opportunity to keep improving their record, as they have each season under Daikawa. “The Central Division is always tight. You take a look at last season where two points decided the top spot and we secured the last spot thanks to one more win. Adding the Minnesota Wilderness will make the competition even tougher, so every game is going to be a battle, but we are excited to get things going,” said Daikawa.
The Blizzard also had a very successful season with the advancement of their players as 11 players with Blizzard ties made NCAA commitments last season, including leading scorer Griff Jeszka, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at UMass, as well as, breakout star Mikael Hakkarainen, who committed to play NCAA Division I hockey at Providence College.
Daikawa said that the league-wide exposure and commitments are something that is a sense of pride. “I think the league has gotten younger and those younger players are showing they can compete. On the flip side, the league is providing opportunity for older players to develop later in their junior careers and show they can be Division I prospects as well. The exposure they receive during the entire season, as well as, at the NAHL Showcase is something that just can’t be duplicated,” said Daikawa.
Daikawa said the league playing with 24 teams in four different divisions in something he considers a good thing. “I think as long as there is growth, stability and opportunity, then we are moving in the right direction as a league,” said Daikawa. “The NAHL truly lives up to its name as ‘The League of Opportunity’ because every player is getting the chance to develop and advance to the next levels of hockey, no matter his age or what team he his playing for.”
As for this season, Daikawa said that Brookings is continuing to build momentum in the community thanks to a strong outreach program and diverse experience for the players. “I think being a part of this community is great for our organization and players. There is so much to do here and it is important than our guys experience things outside of hockey. There is a lot of outdoor activities and having South Dakota State in the area also brings some ties with the school,” said Daikawa. “Continuing our momentum with the fans and continuing to be a playoff team is a top priority for us. We want to keep the momentum going in the right direction. You want to put yourself in the best position possible and be playing good hockey at the end of the regular season and after that, anything is possible. We want to be a puck-possession type of team, but we are going to be very young this season, so there is going to be some growing pains, but it is all about growing as an organization.”
Next in the 24 in 24 series: Corpus Christi IceRays