Ben Johnson has a vision of a team that's focused on constantly moving forward on and off the ice.
On Thursday at Maysa Arena, the Duluth, Minn., native was formally introduced as head coach and general manager of the Minotauros (Tauros), the new North American Hockey League junior team in Minot. The team is owned by Heavy Metal Hockey, Inc., and PlayForward Sports Group, Inc.
"We're very excited to come here and start a new franchise from the ground level," Johnson said. "The style I like is fast skating - guys moving. We'll be a skilled, fast team. We're not gonna be a fighting team. We want to make them play hockey and teach them the right way.
"Then get them out of here ... move them on to (Division I) or (Division III) or off to the pros."
At his side during the press conference were assistant coaches Jarrod Olson - who serves as program director of the Minot Hockey Boosters - and Marty Murray, who recently hung up his ice skates after a professional career that included stints in the NHL. Other assistant coaches are said to be Terry Dunbar and Jason Blackburn.
"We think we can put a really good product on the ice," Johnson said. "We'll try to get the right system in here (and) guys that can understand that type of system."
Johnson certainly has success on his side. As an assistant, he helped guide Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) to two straight national championships. As a player, he competed in for Duluth East High School and played in the United States Hockey League and the Western Hockey League. He won a gold medal for Team USA in the 2007 deaf Olympics.
"I've been fortunate to be a part of good teams with Shattuck-St. Mary's," Johnson said. "I've been fortunate to see good hockey players, and we'll definitely go after those types of players."
Olson said evaluating in-state talent was of high importance to the team and Johnson added that many North Dakota players are already playing juniors.
"Them being owned by those teams, we can't talk to them," Johnson said. "It would be nice if they got released, then we could talk to them."
Olson said having a juniors team means a homegrown player has a chance to continue his hockey career in Minot into his early 20s.
"There's kids that could start when they're 4 years old and play all the way through youth hockey, then play high school hockey
The regular season kicks off in mid-September and runs to the end of March. The playoffs start in April and go through May.
If the Tauros hope to sustain a program, Murray said being competitive will be key.
"We want to come out of the gates strong," Murray said. "We want to create a culture where players want to come here and sign. We don't want to come out of the gates where we're three years in and missing the playoffs. We need to come out and have a strong team."
Tryouts for the team in Minneapolis are on May 20, and Johnson said the main tryout camp will be Aug. 5-7 in Minot. He also noted that tenders have been offered to players already.
"We're looking everywhere," Johnson said. "We have a list of guys that we've tendered already, but we're giving everyone an opportunity to make our squad."
The Tauros hope to entice fans by creating a rivalry with Bismarck, and Johnson said he's been in talks with Bobcats owner Thom Brigl about possibly playing for a traveling trophy or cup. Olson said it was a Bismarck Bobcats-Aberdeen Wings exhibition game at Maysa Arena in early December that helped move the process along.
"The community came out and showed us," Olson said. "We had 800-900 fans here on a Thursday night. They showed there's a lot of interest in the community. That really helped push this along."
Sharing ice time could also be a problem, but Olson said he's been to numerous meetings on the issue. Currently, Maysa has two rinks and the All Seasons Arena has one. Maysa has had discussions on adding a third rink.
"We always talk that ice is at a premium here in town," Olson said. "The junior team should be able to practice during the day. We have to adjust weekend schedules a little bit, but the benefits outweigh the negatives. With commitment and proper scheduling, it shouldn't be an issue at all."
Though ownershp is in place, Olson said opportunities will arise for members of the community to purchase stakes in the team. He added the program's goal is to be completely owned by the community one day.
"We hope in a short amount of time, people in the community (will want) to invest, and we'll be a community-based program down the road. You've got to start somewhere. Hopefully, down the road, it will be owned by this community."