A new junior hockey team will take the ice this fall in Whatcom County.
The Bellingham Blazers, owned and operated by the Whatcom Sports Commission, has been added as an expansion franchise in the Northern Pacific Hockey League for the 2012-2013 season.
The Blazers were approved earlier this summer by USA Hockey, which certifies leagues and teams to play junior hockey in the United States. Open tryouts for the team are scheduled for Aug. 17-19.
Mark Collins is the team’s head coach and Lance Calloway is the general manager.
Collins spent the last two years as an assistant coach with the Wenatchee Wild U18 team. Prior to that, he was head coach of the Whatcom Warriors.
Collins is a former player himself. After playing junior hockey in Saskatchewan, he earned a scholarship to play at North Dakota State University.
In addition to his duties with the Blazers, Collins is also the hockey director at Bellingham Sportsplex, coaching the Learn to Play Hockey Program for youth and adults.
The coach said the Bellingham Blazers were designed to help younger players train for the higher levels of competition they are likely to face later in their careers.
“We’re here to prepare kids for the next level of hockey,” Collins said, in a press release. “The key is developing their skills and getting them opportunities to play in college.”
The Blazers will play their home games in the Bellingham Sportsplex. Their 40-game regular season starts Oct. 4 against the West Sound Warriors in Bremerton.
The first home game will be at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 against West Sound.
The regular season for the Blazers ends at home March 1 against the Vancouver Victory. The Blazers play 11 of their first 13 games on the road, but finish the season with 13 of their last 15 games at home.
The Blazers will play most of their home games on Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets will cost $6 for adults and $4 for youths ages 5-18, students with college identification cards and seniors 65 and older.
Host families are being sought for the Blazers, most of whom will be juniors or seniors in high school. Families will receive financial compensation and season tickets. For application forms, call the team’s front office at 360-676-1919.
The Blazers also are seeking volunteers for game night operations.
The Northern Pacific Hockey League, which is entering its 12th season, has five other teams in Bremerton, Vancouver, Wash., Kennewick, Eugene, Ore., and Whitefish, Mont. Its league champion advances to a national junior hockey championship tournament in early April.