The Alexandria Blizzard were without three of its top players for its game in Aberdeen on Saturday night, but with good reason.
Forwards Alex Altenbernd, Brent Bain and Steve Zierke were invited to join the USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s Under-18 Team as it played an exhibition against the University of North Dakota that evening.
Team USA fell to UND, 2-1.
Zierke, for one, was excited for the chance to play against the Sioux, a perennial WCHA power ranked No. 5 in the nation in the latest USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Men's College Hockey Poll.
“It’ll be a good opportunity for us to see what it’s like to play at the D-I level,” Zierke said before the game. “And to do it playing on the U.S. team against UND - one of the top teams in the nation - just makes it that much better. I'm looking forward to it; it should be fun.”
Zierke, from Brooklyn Park, Minn., ranks second on the team in scoring with 24 points (14 goals) through 25 games; Altenbernd, a Moorhead, Minn., native who competed in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Massachusetts earlier this month, has 22 points (seven goals) after 25 games; Toledo, Ohio, native Bain, in only eight games, has 13 points on four goals.
“For one, they get to put on the USA jersey, which not everybody gets to do,” Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo said of the 20-year-olds before the contest. “And secondly, hopefully they can prove they can play at the Division I level in a very high-intense environment like North Dakota.”
The call-ups were necessary because one forward on the Under-18 Team - Rocco Grimaldi - is participating at the World Junior Championship preliminary camp in Buffalo and three others are sidelined with injuries.