Twin City Thunder’s Alex Rivet and Dom Chasse work together to score a goal during hockey game in Auburn in October. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Last year at this time Lewiston native Alex Rivet had been released by the hometown Maine Nordiques of the North American Hockey League and was on his way to north of the border to more frigid temperatures after he signed with the Waywayseecappo Wolverines of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

He’s trading in his winter coat for sunscreen, shorts and T-shirts this winter as he and the rest of his Twin City Thunder teammates have begun life in the United States Premier Hockey League’s Hub City in Tampa, Florida at the AdventHealth Center Ice and other rinkks.

Rivet doesn’t remember the exact temperature when he landed in Manitoba last year but believes the temperature was below zero. He got another idea of how chilly it was when his roommate brought his car battery inside overnight so it wouldn’t freeze.

“I remember when I got first off the plane and I was like: ‘Oh my God, I know Maine is cold, but this a whole other level,’” Rivet said. “I remember I first got there and I had a roommate and he plugged his car into the house. I looked at him and asked ‘Why are you plugging the car in the house?’ He said to me ‘When you live up here, you aren’t going to have a car the next day’ and that’s one thing really stuck out to me. It’s night and day between Maine and Manitoba, it’s always snowy and it’s always cold.”

When the Thunder National Collegiate Development Conference and Premier League teams landed in the sunshine state on Sunday, the temperature was 65.

“It was cloudy a bit, but when we got there some of the boys got to use the pool,” Rivet said. “We weren’t fazed by (the temperature being 65) because of being from Maine. But it’s been great. (On Monday) it was 70 and sunny.”

The grounds of Saddlebrook Resort in A view from the fairway from the Saddlebrook Golf Club at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Florida.. The Twin City Thunder are taking part in the USPHL Hub City event the next six weeks in and around Tampa, Florida. Submitted photo

All the teams are staying at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Florida. It has a golf course and tennis courts for the players to use.

The teams will not just be soaking up the sun. There are 20 games to be played in 45 days for both the NCDC and Premier League teams.

Rivet knows that the next six weeks will be key for not only the team, but players such himself.

“We had a meeting (Sunday) night with the new (NCDC) commissioner (Bob Turow) explaining this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and guys in my (shoes), being a 2000-born, that this is the last opportunity to show Division I, Division III coaches what we can bring to the table,” Rivet said. “Obviously playing or not playing, this will be great.”

Rivet has six points (two goals and four assists) in nine games since joining the Thunder at the beginning of the year after starting the season with the Utica Jr. Comets, who drafted him this past summer. His six points is tied for fourth on the Thunder.

Players know they need to keep their focus and not look forward to what they can do after the game.

“At the end of the day, there will be distractions and the activities that are opened to us, but we also remember why we are here; everyone has goals to move on (to college hockey),” Thunder NCDC captain Nick Rashkovsky said. “As a team, we want to help each other get there. We know when it’s time to have fun, but we know when it’s time to be serious and get focused. We are all a team and we are going to do that.”

The NCDC team sits seventh in the North Division with a 4-6-0 record coming into Tampa. The 10 games played is tied for the fewest with the Jr. Comets and the Northern Cyclones in the NCDC. The Thunder had a few players who had the coronavirus which impacted their schedule and postponed a game when the state of Maine shut down youth hockey in October.

Rashkovsky, who recently committed to Williams College, doesn’t believe the team has an advantage playing the fewest games this season.

A view from the fairway from the Saddlebrook Golf Club at Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Submitted photo

“Everybody is here, we all have all the same type of circumstances and playing field, there’s no home ice advantage or excuses of travel or too many games,” Rashkovsky said. “The playing fields are level; whichever team is more prepared and ready to play can win on any given day.”

Twin City opens play in Tampa on Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. against the Islanders Hockey Club (11-9-1, 21 points, third in North Division). The Thunder will face two South Division opponents the rest of the week as they take on the Rockets Hockey Club (16-1-3, 35 points) and play two against the P.A.L. Islanders (3-10-2, eight points) on Friday and Sunday.

Thunder NCDC coach Dan Hodge feels being in Tampa will be bring some normalcy of playing games on a regular basis.

“I do feel like we are in a middle of an extended training camp and trying to get our team where they’ve got to be when we get to Tampa,”  Hodge said last month. “We are off for the holidays now and it will be even more challenging when we get down to Tampa to get back focused and ready to play.

The season can turn around with a quick start in Tampa.

“The biggest thing (Hodge) said, we are here for one reason and that’s preparing ourselves to winning a championship,” Rivet said. “Obviously that’s in the back of all of our minds and we have the team to do it. We had a rough start to the year but we (have) a clean slate now. We are for 45 days playing (20 games). You can turn around a season just like that and get momentum going into the playoffs.”

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