BLOOMINGTON — While the National Hockey League finds itself in yet another labor dispute, optimism surrounds the Bloomington Blaze with the start of training camp less than three weeks away.
“We’re pretty happy with the way the roster is shaping up. We wanted to go with a team-tough mentality, and I think we’ve pretty much accomplished that,” said first-year Blaze coach Brian Gratz, who noted an average height of 6-foot-3 among his defensemen.
Gratz sees vast potential in a scoring line led by Bloomington hockey veteran Jon Booras and newcomer Nicklas Lindberg, backed by a checking line of Travis Granbois, Kyle Bochek and Charlie Townsend.
“That group can shut down the other team’s top line and cause problems,” said Gratz.
Pier-Olivier Pelletier and Dan Dunn form the current goalie tandem. Gratz said Neumann University product Ross MacKinnon will come in for a tryout as well.
“In any championship formula, it starts with the net and works way out. It’s going to be a very talented goalie group,” said Gratz.
Blaze president and general manager David Holt believes the talent Gratz continues to assemble will combine with planned venue attractions to raise the entertainment level at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
“Our team will be very competitive and, I would be willing to guess, we probably will have more promotions than ever before,” said Holt. Six giveaways currently are scheduled, including both nights of the Oct. 19-20 opening weekend.
Holt also said at least one planned postgame concert is in the works and should be finalized soon.
While single-game tickets do not go on sale until Oct. 1, Holt has been impressed with season-ticket sales.
“They’re selling much better than last year. Our staff worked hard getting out in the community and getting the word out,” said Holt. “We’re definitely further along than we were last year, and that’s very encouraging.”
Holt doesn’t see the NHL lockout having much of an impact on the Blaze.
“Everybody throughout hockey has known that this was more than likely going to happen,” Holt said. “(Gratz) has built our team with players we want, guys that will stay here or maybe move up to the Triple-A level. We were never planning on guys coming down from the work stoppage to be here for a month and then leave.”