We’ve all heard the phrase, “thin the herd.” Thanks to a fantastic 10-part docu-series the cliché has taken on a life of its own following the Minnesota Blue Ox junior hockey team. Head coach Jay Witta and his brother Bennett Witta are the brains behind the reality unscripted series titled, “Thin the Herd.” The Minnesota Blue Ox junior hockey team plays in the USPHL Premier League and cameras record countless on, and off, ice situations encountered by its players, coaches, and fans.
“Thin the Herd” makes good on the promise to provide viewers with an intimate look inside the Junior A hockey experience for all to enjoy. Jay Wittta is the owner, GM, and head coach of the team while his brother Bennett just so happens to be the co-creator brother and Minnesota film maker that himself owns Wittacreativestudios, best described as a full video production house in Minneapolis. If you have ever watched and enjoyed the HBO Sports reality NHL hockey series "24/7" then this special is for you. Together the Witta brothers have something magical with this junior hockey documentary focusing on the Blue Ox.
In Wisconsin, the USPHL has 3 junior hockey teams around the state. The Dells Ducks, Hudson Havoc and the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Blue Ox had to pivot to keep their season and migrated to Wisconsin so that they could continue to practice and play during the season. Several of their practices shifted from Coon Rapids, Minnesota over to the rink in Somerset, Wisconsin. And several games were spread around the state to different rinks. A move by Coach Witta and his staff that ultimately saved their season while many other Minnesota hockey teams were not allowed to play in their home state during the same period of time.
Coach Witta, who was drafted by the legendary college and Miracle on Ice coach Herb Brooks to play D1 hockey at Saint Cloud State University, is a charismatic individual with a solid hockey pedigree. He and his staff guide the players during all many. One main theme is there is more to life than hockey and learn how to be a better person as you prepare for your life after hockey.
Thin the Herd marketing material provided to promote the story effectively lays out the situation; We follow the journey of a 28 player hockey team throughout the season, learning about how hockey touches their lives - on and off the ice - as they navigate a 7 month season, becoming a brotherhood and developing their skills for a lasting career in hockey. We watch them undertake the grueling 52 game season and the life coaching that the Blue Ox requires for its heightened success. We learn about the team and their experiences through conversations with the Blue Ox players and staff. We also experience the challenging environment and protocols effected from the COVID-19 pandemic through the eyes of coaches and players. Additionally, we get personal stories and backstories from players, coaches and fans of the Minnesota Blue Ox.
Many of the players vary in age, ranging from 16 to 21, which means they are all at different stages in their hockey careers. What does it feel like to be a rookie, joining the team while struggling with the transition of moving away from home? How do you prove yourself? With such a long road ahead, how do you ensure you have what it takes? As a veteran, how do you train and work harder than you ever have to ensure people notice you in what could be your final season, fighting your way into college and truly making yourself a part of the Blue Ox legacy? How do you pull yourself beyond your teammates and still keep the team’s camaraderie and mentality intact? As a coach, how do you deal with players that vary so much in age, and lead a team through the triumphs and disappointments? What players will be lucky enough to advance to the next level, and who will need another year?
While the series revolves around hockey, we will also have a first-hand look at how the players grow and mature off the ice. Adolescence is a strange time - you can land and lose your first girlfriend, you get your first car, or you fail your first class. To add to the pressure, many players from the Minnesota Blue Ox are paying to play with the possibility that nothing comes of it. Many of the kids pay their own tuition and work during the season while others are still in high school and have to balance academics and the junior hockey life style. They overcome adversity, competing against each other on the ice and on the depth chart long before they play another team, in the process transforming themselves not just into great hockey players but great individuals.
In a recent conversation, Jay explained to me that he and his brother Bennett are in discussions with additional investors as they plan to bring us at least one more season of this captivating hockey series. I’m betting they secure funding and get to bring us a few more seasons following the Blue Ox junior hockey team in the "Thin the Herd" hockey docu-series. Meanwhile, whether you are a hockey fan or not, be sure to tune in for season one. It is a hit!
Check out YouTube to watch the 10-part series of the first season.