The Minot Minotauros' quest for their first Robertson Cup begins Sept. 18 as the team announced its 2013-14 schedule Tuesday.
The Tauros open the season with the 11th annual North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minn. Minot will play four games in four days against non-Central Division opponents beginning with Corpus Christi (Texas) and concluding with Michigan (Flint). The Tauros play Port Huron (Mich.) and Springfield (Ill.) as well.
Minot and its fans won't have to wait long for a much-anticipated reunion with the Austin (Minn.) Bruins. The Tauros host Austin - which eliminated Minot in the first round of the division playoffs last season - in their home opener at Maysa Arena on Sept. 27.
"It will be received real well," Tauros coach Marty Murray said. "Our fans are hungry for some hockey. It will be a big weekend. Austin's a strong team and we expect them to be strong this season."
The NAHL made several divisional realignments during the offseason to account for three expansion teams - Minnesota Wilderness, Minnesota Magicians and Rio Grande Valley (Texas) Killer Bees. As a result, the Central Division becomes the smallest in the NAHL this season with just five teams. Coulee Region (Wis.) departed for the newly-formed Midwest Division.
Despite the loss of Coulee Region, Murray believes the division will remain a stiff challenge.
"It's going to be real strong," he said. "Aberdeen (S.D.) finished real strong last year. They're going to be tough this year. Bismarck's always tough and so are Austin and Brookings (S.D.). It's going to be a real competitive division this year."
The Tauros will see plenty of the Midwest, but not in the form Coulee Region. The Chill don't appear on Minot's schedule this season. Minot plays 10 games against the Midwest and 14 non-division games in total. The Tauros played 10 non-division games last season - all in the season's first half.
Minot's first road trip of the season following the showcase comes at Wenatchee (Wash.), where the Tauros will get their first look at former Bottineau High School defenseman Cody Longie. The Wild selected Longie in the third round of the NAHL draft in June.
The Tauros could see Minot High-product Morgen Martelle in late-November when Minot travels to play its inaugural game at the Minnesota Magicians in Richfield. Martelle was an 11th-round selection.
Minot closes out the 60-game regular season with nine of its final 14 contests at Maysa Arena. The Tauros finished 15-12-3 last season.
"You like to have an advantage with home ice," Murray said. "We try to take advantage of tired bus legs. Nowadays both teams play well in both rinks. Hopefully we can be a strong home team at the Maysa."
Minot closes out its home schedule with its first meeting with Kenai River (Alaska) in program history. While the Tauros have never played the Brown Bears, they do have a connection with them. Minot traded four draft picks for Kenai River's Matt Seidel on draft day. Seidel led the Brown Bears with 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists).
The Tauros travel to Austin on April 10-11 to close out the regular season.
Mike Kraft covers the Minot Minotauros. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.