When it was announced in April that Tom Chorske and Corey Millen were taking over as general manager and coach, respectively, for the St. Cloud Blizzard of the North American Hockey League, St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson had a quick one-liner about the former University of Minnesota teammates.
“He joked that we were going to change the name to the St. Cloud Gophers,’’ Chorske recalled.
Not quite, but there has been a name change. Last week, the Blizzard announced a rebranding, and the team now is known as the St. Cloud Norsemen.
“We felt it was a brand that resonated with Minnesotans and Central Minnesota,’’ said Chorske, of the work led by marketing director Amy Hefti and freelancers. “We wanted something that was more personified, not a weather condition or something vague.’’
Chorske hopes the makeover can have a similar impact to one he experienced as a player. The New Jersey Devils exchanged green and red uniforms in 1991-92 to a black-and-red look starting in 1993-95.
“We went from wearing those green pants and people saying we looked like a Christmas present, kind of ripping on you and chirping you,’’ said Chorske, who played four seasons for the Devils. “We put the new uniform on with black, and it just looked sharper and felt a lot better.
“From the players’ standpoint,’’ he added, “I felt a change like this will put a little giddy-up in their step and hopefully feel better about it.’’
The Norsemen certainly can use a boost from the team of Chorske and Millen, who played together for two seasons with the Gophers and parts of two with the Devils. Chorske won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 1995, while Millen was with the Devils until late February that season, when he was traded to Dallas for Neal Broten.
The duo will try to resurrect a team that won only 10 of 52 games last season, its first in St. Cloud after seven in Brookings, S.D. Owners Chris and Mitri Cavanati moved the team last June 3 after arena issues in Brookings.
“The relocation was a challenging one. That’s why last year’s season didn’t go well on the ice or off the ice,’’ Chorske said. “They were running to catch up. There really wasn’t the reach-out and involvement in the community that needs to be. That’s going to be high on our list of things we need to take care of.’’
Chorske will handle much of the business end -- sponsorships, ticket packages and sales, group events, game-night promotions – while also teaming with Millen on player procurement. The Norsemen signed three players this week, including forward Ben Helgeson of Roseau, Minn., and selected three players in the NAHL supplemental draft, including forward Johnny Meiers of Eagan. Millen has shown his coaching chops in the NAHL, winning the 2015 Robertson Cup as coach of the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness. He also has served as a Gophers assistant coach.
The coronavirus pandemic has limited how the Norsemen can scout players, but Chorske, Millen and Co. are improvising.
“We certainly hope things loosen up and we can watch some players skate,’’ Chorske said. “We’re in the same boat as everyone else – kind of in a holding pattern. In the meantime, we have access to a video scouting platform. Corey and I and associate head coach Casey Mignone are burning up the phones.’’
Chorske sees the team’s St. Cloud location as ideal, centrally located among five NCAA Division I teams in Minnesota, plus North Dakota nearby as college teams scout for players. The quality of play in the NAHL, a 27-team Tier II junior league, is improving. Over the past five seasons, more than 1,500 players from the NAHL have committed to NCAA Division I or III programs, and 30 have been selected in the NHL draft.
“We’ve heard from all of those programs, and they’ve expressed a confidence that we’re going to put a stronger on-ice product out there between Corey and me, and that’s going to draw them in to watch the St. Cloud team play other NAHL teams,’’ Chorske said. “And the visiting teams that are coming to play Minnesota, St. Cloud State or [Minnesota] Duluth, they’re going to come and spend the night watching our team, too. From a player’s standpoint, it’s a kind of no-brainer if they want exposure.’’