Bryce Ravndalen grew up in Warroad, Minn., where one of the main themes to the hockey-crazed community is that "there’s always ice."
But for Ravndalen, that wasn’t the case in what turned out to be a brief stint with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League early on this year.
A victim of a numbers crunch and a healthy scratch for all but one of his games with Fargo, Ravndalen, a St. Cloud State University recruit, wasn’t getting much ice time in Fargo, so he left, and headed back to the Alexandria Blizzard, revisiting a place where he got his first taste of junior hockey late last season, and finding a home that will provide plenty of what he had in Hockeytown, USA.
“He’s going to get a bunch of ice time, so it’s better for him to be with us than to be in the USHL and be a third- or fourth-liner,” said Alexandria head coach Brad Willner.
The transition was flawless, as Ravndalen netted a goal and set up another in his first game back with the Blizzard last Saturday, but that was expected.
He left Warroad after captaining his high school team to a third-place finish in the Class A state tournament last March, and then spent the last part of his hockey season helping Alexandria get into the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament in April.
He knew the players, the coaches and his surroundings, and, in essence, Ravndalen said it felt like he never left.
“I always liked these guys,” he said. “Last year they brought me and accepted me. It wasn’t any different this year. Coach was glad to have me back, and all the guys were really happy to have me back, and I was glad to be back. It’s really a great situation for me.”
It’s also just an hour drive from St. Cloud, so his future coaches can keep tabs on Ravndalen’s progression. That wouldn’t have been the case had Fargo traded him.
“I talked to St. Cloud and our coaches talked to the Blizzard, and we just all decided that it would probably be better if I just came down here instead of getting traded to another team in the USHL,” Ravndalen said. “I don’t know how many times my St. Cloud coaches have told me that playing in the NAHL is going to help me in the long run no matter what, because you learn to play with a chip on your shoulder all the time. That is what I plan to do.”
That aspect of the game isn’t always present in the USHL, where finesse often times trumps physicality on the ice.
For Ravndalen, that meant getting away from the style of play that he grew up.
“The tradition in Warroad goes back so far that you are kind of afraid not to work hard,” he said. “You think about all the guys that have come out of Warroad and made the name for the town. Every kid on the team goes to the rink everyday and works hard because they want to, not because they have to.”
It took him all of one game to be reminded that in the NAHL, work ethic pays dividends. He did that Saturday, and Willner noticed it from the start.
“He plays with some grit,” Willner said. “Saturday night, he was one of our more physical players out there. He’s finished all of his checks and that pays off.”
Which is why St. Cloud State pegged him early, getting him to commit the summer before his senior year of high school.
He said he’s still on pace to head down I-94 next year, and Willner added that he’s a definite Division I player, but Ravndalen isn’t looking that far ahead.
Instead, his focus in on the coming weeks with Alexandria knowing full well what his current team is capable of when it's on.
“We played really well in the playoffs and kind of made a name for ourselves as a program last year,” Ravndalen said. “It’s really carried over to this year. You can tell that we have a lot of veteran guys that know how to get it done. We have a good chance at going back to Nationals. We have a really good team; we just have to get it done.”