Fans filled Armadillo Deck Rink in Sauk Rapids, Minn. on Nov. 12 to watch the Granite City Lumberjacks take on the New Ulm Steel. Most of the fans were dressed in blue and red, the colors of the Lumberjacks, but a group of fans from Rogers, and the surrounding area, came to cheer on a specific player from the New Ulm Steel.
“It was fun to play in front of family and friends,” Vinny Billing said.
Billing, a 2016 Rogers High School alum, recently joined the New Ulm Steel after a short stint with the North Iowa Bulls. Billing played nine games for the Bulls, scoring 12 points (seven goals and five assists) before being traded to New Ulm. Billing talked how much he enjoyed his time playing for North Iowa both on and off the ice.
“You kind of have to have it in the back of your head that it could happen,” Billing said about being traded. “You’re competing for your job and if you have one bad game that could be the end of it. You just never know so you have to make the most of it every time you go out and play.”
Both New Ulm and North Iowa are part of the North American “3” Hockey League (NA3HL), which is entering its seventh season. NA3HL is one of six Tier III USA Hockey sanctioned junior leagues. The goal of the league is player development, where all players are striving to make it to the next level in their hockey career.
“What people don’t understand is how successful this league is in sending players onto the next level whether that would be the NAHL or even Division III schools to play at,” Billing said. “It is a very competitive league and that makes it very fun.”
Billing is still adjusting to being on his new team but says he loves that he is now closer to home where friends and family can come watch him more often. Vinny and his sister Gabby are extremely close, and the closer distance to home will allow her to watch more games.
“I always had my mind set to play after high school but it’s been a tough path,” Billing said. “I have not noticed how hard it actually is now playing here.”
Hockey runs in the Billing family with both Vinny and Gabby playing since they were young. Vinny played his whole high school career for the Royals, scoring four points as a sophomore and 26 points as a junior. Vinny’s career year came last year as a senior where he scored 27 goals (team best) and 14 assists.
Sister Gabby always spends her free time on the ice, playing for Breck and scoring 24 points last year as a sophomore. She played her eighth grade season for Rogers, scoring 14 goals and 21 assists back in 2013-14. Last month she committed to Dartmouth College, a D1 Ivy league school in Hanover, New Hampshire.
“I would like to congratulate my sister on her D1 commitment to Dartmouth College,” Vinny tweeted on Nov. 10. “You have been the hardest worker I have ever met on the ice and off. I am very proud of you. You will do amazing things in life and I can’t see where this road takes you.”
Vinny doesn’t quite know where the hockey path will take him but wherever it is, he will be excited to be part of the journey. Through two games with his new team he has two assists. The Steel play its next game on Nov. 23 against the Willmar War Hawks.
“You have to be your best every day and can’t take a day off,” Billing said. “It’s in some words a job you’re trying to keep, but that’s what makes it a great experience.”