Willie Knierim, a 'B' rated skater on NHL Central's preliminary players to watch list for the 2016 NHL Draft, will enter his second season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the United States Hockey League this season. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound right wing had 12 goals and 28 points in 60 games last season. The Skokie, Ill., native is committed to Miami University in 2016-17. Knierim has offered to maintain a blog for NHL.com leading up to the 2016 NHL Draft in Buffalo, N.Y. His first entry comes from the CCM/USA All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo.
Hey everyone. My name is Willie Knierim. I'm from Chicago, Illinois, but I currently live in Dubuque, Iowa, where I am lucky enough to play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
This will be my second year with the Saints. My rookie year last year was filled with every kind of emotion. Whether that was the joy of scoring my first USHL goal in front of 4,000 screaming fans, or the disappointment of the realization that our season had come to an end after a game five loss last May.
What made all of those moments so memorable were the people that surrounded me; my team, everyone in the Saints organization, and the fans.
I left Dubuque last year and the countdown until I came back had immediately started. When I got into town for my second year, I could not wait to get to work. Practice had begun right away and we had two games that weekend.
When our team stepped onto the ice for our first practice together, I went to the boards to stretch. When I looked up into the stands I was astonished to see there were about ten fans there to watch us practice, and some fans continued to show up for the whole week.
Our first game was at home that weekend and we had quite the turnout, especially for a preseason game.
While I was sitting in the stands that game, I got the chance to walk around. As I was walking, I looked at the fans as they were cheering for us and screaming at the refs. They were pouring their hearts and voices out into the game. It started to kick in how awesome our fans were and how dedicated they were.
What really drove that thought home was the next game we played our rival, the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, on the road. During the first period, I was approaching the offensive zone for a draw, and as I got closer it got easier and easier to see some of our fans, taking up a whole section of Cedar Rapids Ice Arena. They traveled an hour and a half to come cheer us on.
During the past two weeks, our head coach, Jason Lammers, has been telling us it's a privilege to pull on a Saints sweater. The saying itself is pretty cliché, but it holds true here in Dubuque.
We as players, our coaching staff and our organization are truly blessed with all the support we get from the community and our fans. What a year it's going to be!