Puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at CSC; league looking to potentially expand here.

    Crookston Sports Center will host a pair of junior hockey exhibition games this Friday and Saturday, and a standout goalie for the Crookston Pirates boys’ hockey team from the late 1980s will bring one of the teams to town as a first-year coach. Not only that, a recent Pirate hockey alum skates for the squad.   

    Todd Kreibich is in his first year as head coach of the Minnesota Iron Rangers. Junior hockey designations, categories and tiers can be pretty confusing for those not in the know, but the Iron Rangers are a Junior A Tier 2 team that plays in the Superior International Junior Hockey League (SIJHL), which is part of the Canadian Junior Hockey League (CJHL).   

    Kreibich’s team, featuring 2016 Crookston High School graduate Harrison Bjorgo, will take on the Thief River Falls Norskies in the two games at the CSC. The puck drops at 7 p.m. each night. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students and senior citizens, and $5 for kids under age 12.   

    Crookston Parks & Recreation Supervisor Scott Riopelle said it would be great to see lots of people in the seats. A good crowd might send a signal that Crookston could potentially have its own junior hockey franchise.   

    “The league is looking for exposure with options for future expansion and felt Crookston would be a good venue to showcase their talent,” Riopelle said. “Our hope is that the community comes out showing their support and enjoys some junior hockey.”   

    Kreibich, who enjoyed a decorated career as goalie for the Warroad Lakers before moving to northeast Minnesota and beginning his youth hockey coaching career, echoed Riopelle’s sentiments.
    “We are hopeful that Crookston could be an expansion team in our league in the near future,” Kreibich said. “It would be great to fill the stands.”   

    Cole Workman, Norskies head coach, said the league brass heard a while back that Crookston was potentially interested in hosting a franchise in the league, and that’s a big reason this weekend’s games will be played here.    

    “We want to show Crookston what junior hockey brings to the ice; it’s a different style of play from high school,” Workman said. It’s a bit faster than high school hockey, he explained, but perhaps the biggest difference is the intensity of the physical play. “You can fight,” Workman said. “One of our first games at the Ralph (Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls), there was a fight, and everyone in the stands was like, ‘Oh my god, what’s happening!?’ They thought the world was ending. But physical play and toughness is a part of the game at this level, and it’s exciting for the fans.”   

    So what is a player on the Norskies or Iron Rangers hoping to accomplish, beyond extending the amount of time they play the game they love competitively? Kreibich said the goal for the Iron Rangers, who have been in the league six years compared to two years for the Norskies, is to try to move the players onto NCAA Division III schools to play hockey, or advance them to the next rung on the junior hockey ladder, the North American Hockey League.   

    In only two seasons, Workman said the Norskies have really caught on with hockey fans in Thief River Falls, and with several players hailing from the host city as well as Red Lake Falls and Grand Forks, fans don’t have to travel far to see players they’re familiar with.   

    “No doubt, we already have a dedicated following; it’s pretty crazy to see how much they’ve latched onto this team,” Workman said. “Obviously, we’re excited to come to Crookston and expand our reach and hopefully gain some new fans.”