47 in 24 series: Willmar WarHawks
September 6, 2017
The 47 in 24 series will feature an in-depth look into all 47 teams in the NA3HL for the 2017-18 season, with new teams being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 47 in 24 goes in-depth into each NA3HL team and will include interviews with all 47 head coaches in the NA3HL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2017-18 season, including taking a look at their potential roster and their strengths as a team for the upcoming season. It will also take a look back on the 2016-17 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished. Best of all, 47 in 24 will provide the fans of the NA3HL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
2016-17 Record: 22-22-3, 47 pts. (5th in the West Division)
2017 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Head Coach: Chris Blaisius
2017-18 Division: West
The Willmar WarHawks began as the Minnesota Flying Aces in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League in 2007. In 2011, the team joined the NA3HL, keeping their original name. In 2016, the team was sold to Blizzard Hockey, LLC – who also own the NAHL team Brookings Blizzard and the Alexandria Blizzard of the NA3HL. The owners relocated the team to Willmar, Minnesota, where they became the Willmar WarHawks.
The WarHawks saw six commitments during the 2016-17 season. Jacob Dobberstein (Lawrence University), Danny Nugent (St. Mary’s University), Revis Stephenson (Gustavus Adolphus College), Riley Tigrett (Hamline University), Jack Walter (St. Mary’s University), and Kyle Wendorf (Hamline University) will all play collegiate hockey this year.
The team is led by head coach Chris Blaisius, who has headed the team since their move to Willmar. Previously, he worked as a scout for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL from 2010-2016, helping them to three Robertson Cup victories. Blaisius has also worked in the USPHL and coached in the ACHA and in the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
With the most player advancements in their division, the WarHawks were pleased with how last season ended, despite not making the playoffs.
“We had the most players advance to college hockey in our division. It was a good building block. We had a really young team, and we were really close. We have a lot of returners that are motivated after going through last season.”
With eleven returning WarHawks and six junior hockey veterans, Blaisius and the WarHawks are prepared to make playoffs and be a strong competitor this season.
“We need to take the next step and make the playoffs. Anything short of that is a failure.”
When it comes to achieving that goal, the players are willing to put in effort – day in and day out.
“We’re emphasizing consistent effort day to day. The guys have come together quickly – building that bond and having a more experienced team will hopefully bring success.”
In addition to improving their current players, Blaisius and his coaching staff were looking for a very specific type of player to round out their team.
“We’re looking for guys that are committed to improving their game, not just happy to be here. I don’t want individuals; I want team players.”
Coach Blaisius recognizes the importance of off-ice work when it comes to getting your players to where they want to go. His players provide him with schools they’d like to attend, as well as academic interests and test scores, and from there he reaches out to coaches.
“You have to work for your players. There’s too many teams to think “if you’re good enough, they’ll come find you. It’s a companionship between the player, coaches and leagues to work together.”
Even though the coaching staff of the Willmar WarHawks are working hard to get their players seen, they also recognize the benefits of league wide events.
“They are very beneficial for players. I had a player immediately benefit from the Top Prospect Tournament. The kid has to put the work in, but the league more than does their part to get players looked at.”
Since on ice work isn’t everything, the WarHawks regularly fill their days with volunteer activities. Partnered with the Willmar Hockey Association, the team puts on skills and skating nights for the younger teams, where the WarHawks players run stations. Also, the team puts on a reading competition in local elementary schools.
The WarHawks start their season on the road against the Breezy Point North Stars on September 16, 2017.
Next up in the 47 in 24 series: Wisconsin Whalers