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44 posts categorized "Austin Bruins"

October 09, 2015

Bear Tracks | A Robby Cup rematch

Posted by: Feldman

Feels like yesterday we were sitting in Riverside Arena in Austin, watching the longest game in North American Hockey League history. But that 4-overtime marathon in Game 1 of last year's Robertson Cup Finals doesn't mean much to a majority of the players who will be on the Riverside ice tonight.

For the first time since the Minnesota Wilderness swept the Austin Bruins in the best-of-3 2015 Robertson Cup Finals, the teams will meet, at 7:05 tonight in Austin and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in Cloquet. 

So much is new on both sides: The entire coaching staff and all but four players for Austin weren't around back in May for the team's second consecutive appearance in the Finals. The Wilderness have a slight edge in returning players, with six guys back who were on their Robby Cup roster, and, of course, head coach Corey Millen is also back.

One thing hasn't changed for Austin under first-year head coach Kyle Grabowski and assistants Keenan Kelly and Brad Clayton: The Bs enter this series in a tie for first place in the NAHL Central Division. Austin (5-3-0, 10 points) is tied with Minot (4-1-2, 10 points) after the Bruins swept a home-and-home against division rival Brookings last weekend.

The Wilderness are 4-3-1 overall, but 4-1-1 since dropping their first two games of the season. 

Here's a look at this weekend's series:


When, where: 7:05 p.m. tonight, Riverside Arena, Austin; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet

Records: Wilderness 4-3-1 (9 points; 3rd, Midwest Division); Austin 5-3-0 (10 points; T-1st, Central Division)

Recent history: This weekend's games are the first two of four between the teams this season. They'll play again at Austin on Dec. 18 and at Cloquet on Jan. 7. ... The Wilderness swept the Bruins, 2-0, in the NAHL Robertson Cup Finals last season. The Wilderness were 5-2-3 against the Bruins in 2014-15; Austin was 5-4-1.

Coaches: Wilderness, Corey Millen (3rd season, 92-37-16 overall); Austin, Kyle Grabowski (1st season, 5-3-0).

Wilderness scoring leaders: F Jacob Hamacher, 5-7, 156 (2-5--7); F Tyler Cline, 5-9, 180 (2-5--7); F Koby Bender, 6-1, 196 (4-2--6); D Tyler Vold, 5-10, 167 (1-5--6).

Wilderness goalie leaders: Chase Munroe, 6-4, 216 (4-1-1, 2.00, .921); Dyllan Lubbesmeyer 5-11, 177 (0-2-0, 4.62, .809).

Bruins scoring leaders: F Jade Miller, 5-9, 180 (7-3--10); F Justin Misiak, 5-10, 170 (3-6--9); F Gilbert Gabor, 6-4, 220 (1-7--8); F Dawson DiPietro, 5-11, 170 (3-3--6).

Bruins goalie leaders: Kris Carlson, 6-2, 180 (3-1-0, 2.50, .919); Austin Smith, 6-2, 170 (2-1-0, 2.01, .909, 1 SO).

Weekend notes: Bruins goalie Kris Carlson is the reigning NAHL Central Division Star of the Week. He started and played all of both games against Brookings, stopping a total of 51 of 55 shots he faced. He made 24 saves in a 4-1 win Friday, then followed with 27 saves in a 6-3 win on Saturday in the Bs home opener. ... Bruins forward Dawson DiPietro had a goal in both games last weekend, including the game winner on Friday, and has five points in his past three games. ... Bs defenseman Will Riedell recorded his first multi-point game with Austin, notching two assists in Saturday's win. ... F Justin Misiak is second on the team in scoring, with nine points. He had a goal and two assists in Saturday's victory. ... Wilderness goalie Chase Munroe hasn't allowed more than two goals in any of his last six appearances. ... Forwards Koby Bender (4-2--6) and Ryan Bloom (4-1--5) are the only Wilderness players with more than two goals this season.  Thirteen players have scored at least once for Minnesota.



TEAM ... W-L-OTL ... Pts.
Austin ... 5-3-0 ... 10
Minot ... 4-1-2 ... 10
Aberdeen ... 4-2-0 ... 8
Brookings ... 4-4-0 ... 8
Bismarck ... 2-5-0 ... 4
Mn Magicians ... 2-4-0 ... 4



Every week, we'll spotlight a former Bruin or Bruins who have gone on to play at the college or pro level. This week's Blast is:

CODY DIXON, D, 2012-13

With the Bs: Dixon was traded to the Bruins early in the 2012-13 season from the Springfield Jr. Blues and he became Austin's top offensive defensman. Dixon finished his season with 16-28--44 in 64 total NAHL games, including six games with Springfield and eight playoff games with the Bs.

Where is he now?: The Hales Corner, Wis., native turned 23 on Sept. 30. He spent the 2013-14 season with NCAA Division III University of Massachusetts-Boston, where scored five goals and had eight total points. He transferred closer to home last season, to Concorida University-Wisconsin, also a D-3 school. CUW is in Mequon, a northern suburb of Milwaukee. He played in 25 games for CUW last season and recorded 14 points, the fifth-most by a defenseman in team history. He'll be a junior for the Falcons this winter and wears No. 63.

September 26, 2015

Former Austin Bruins assistant settling in with USHL's Sioux City

Posted by: Feldman

There was a point in June when even Jamie Huffman started to wonder if he'd have a job in hockey this fall. 

Turns out the stress and wait was 100 percent worth it.

Huffman has moved up in the hockey world and has settled into a groove now as the assistant GM and director of scouting with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL.

Huffman excelled at scouring and scouting in his four years as the top assistant to Chris Tok in Austin. I never posed it this way to them, but -- in the simplest terms -- it often felt like Huffman built the teams and Tok coached them into champions. Now, that's not a fair way to pose things, because both coaches excelled at scouting, recruiting and coaching. They helped their players mature on and off the ice. 

But Huffman quickly realized he has an eye for talent, a talent for scouting and recruiting. And if you talk to scouts throughout junior hockey and college hockey, they'll tell you no one outworks Huffman.

So when he resigned from his post with the Bruins back in May -- just a week before Tok was fired as the team's head coach -- many of us assumed they'd both land on their feet. They did. Tok is out of hockey this year, giving himself and his family a break from the long hours that comes with the job.

Huffman officially began his first season with Sioux City on Sept. 1. A few days later, his phone rang while he was on the ice working with players and the Musketeers' coaching staff. It was a California area code. 

"They called while we were on the ice and said 'are you interested?'" 

It took Huffman less than a second to answer. In addtion to his new gig with the Musketeers, Huffman is also now a part-time scout for the NHL's Anaheim Ducks. And his duties are right up his alley, scouting the USHL, NAHL and Minnesota high school hockey.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Huffman said by phone a couple weeks ago from Sioux City. "That's the side of the game I, for some reason, developed a skill for. I never meant for that to be, but over time as I've gotten better and better, it's become a lot of fun. It's a challenge when you're going after the same player everyone else is."

It's also a challenge to find the guys who other teams don't necessarily want or notice, which is becoming more and more difficult to do these days, when very few players go unseen or unnoticed. 

"I'm a competitor," he said. "Tok always called me 'Mad Dog.' I'll try to outwork everyone."

Huffman will be based out of his hometown of Des Moines, where much of his family still lives. But, like always, he'll be on the road almost non-stop.

Perhaps the biggest change for Huffman, going from the NAHL to the USHL, is that nearly every player on a USHL roster has committed to a Division I college or is being heavily recruited by Division I schools. Many of the players are draft-eligible and are being scouted by NHL teams. In Austin, it was always the coaches' goal to move players on to Division I schools, but usually it was three or four guys a year who jumped to that level. 

"I don't think I'll have to change the way I look at players, but I'll definitely have to be more detailed," said Huffman, who has been in Blaine all week scouting the NAHL Showcase -- and scouring it for hidden gems. "Now (for the Ducks) I might have to go to a game just to watch one guy."

Sioux City has 10 players on its roster who are already D-I commits. And they're headed to the big-time schools -- Michigan, Providence, Denver, Minnesota, North Dakota.

The Musketeers also had a familiar face in the locker room for Huffman to connect with -- former Bruins forward Josh Wilkins is on the Musketeers roster this season.

There's no doubt Huffman is excited for his new opportunities. When he was getting in the later stages of the interviewing process with the Ducks, I asked him to let me know when he heard back from them. Shortly after he got off the phone with Ducks management, I received a text that didn't have any words, just a picture:

Ducks logo

September 18, 2015

Junior Hockey | Bear Tracks: A player-by-player look at the 2015-16 Austin Bruins

Here's a player-by-player look at the 2015-16 Austin Bruins ... well, at least their roster to start the season. Lots of roster changes are common early in the season, especially for a new coaching staff that is trying to fine-tune its roster exactly the way it wants it.
Here's a player-by-player look at the Bs -- who open their season, the first under head coach Kyle Grabowski, in less than an hour:
 Logan Haskins, 5-8, 160 (Rochester): Haskins led Rochester in scoring for a second consecutive season as a high school senior last winter. The diminutive, slick-skating playmaker finished his three-year varsity career with 116 points and he put up at least one point in 23 of Mayo's 26 games last season. He also had 13 multi-point games last season, playing on a line that combined for 125 points. Put up 15 points in 14 games for the Rochester Ice Hawks, playing before and after the high school season.
 Miro Lehtimaki, 6-3, 210 (Kiukainen, Finland): The big 18-year-old played two games for the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL last season after putting up 20 goals and 33 points, as well as 62 penalty minutes, in 56 games for the Iowa AAA U18 Elite team. 
10  A.J. Rupert, 5-11, 170 (North Oaks, Minn.): The 20-year-old former Mounds View High School standout brings two years of junior hockey experience to the Bruins. He put up 41 points over his final two high school seasons, finishing his prep career in 2013. He played the past two seasons for the Minnesota Iron Rangers of the Superior International Junior Hockey League, recording 29 goals and 60 points in 94 games. 
12  Andrew Bellant, 5-10, 185 (Linden, Mich.): Bellant played last season with the Michigan Warriors 18U team of the National Junior Prospects Hockey League. The 18-year-old put up good numbers for Michigan, recording 23 goals and 41 points, as well as 116 penalty minutes, in just 20 games. He played 28 games the previous season for the Flint Jr. Generals of the NA3HL.
14  Jan Stefka 6-3, 185 (Krelov-Bruchotin, Czech Republic): The powerful left-shot forward comes to the Bruins for his first season of play in North America. He spent the past four seasons playing at the U16, U18 and U20 levels for the HC Olomouc program in the Czech Republic. The 18-year-old had 16 goals and 31 points in 25 games at the U18 level last season, and he played in 11 games for the U20 team, putting up one goal and four points.
17  Jade Miller 5-9, 180 (Minto, N.D.): The 20-year-old was a key player last season for a Bruins team that reached the Robertson Cup Finals for a second consecutive year. Miller had nine goals and 20 points in 60 total games last season. ... Wore No. 27 last season, changed to No. 17 this year. ... Came on strong at the end of last season, recording seven points in the final five regular-season games as the Bruins pushed to win the NAHL Central Division.
18  Jason Koehn 6-0, 180 (Grand Rapids): The 17-year-old had seven goals and 10 assists over the past two seasons while playing high school hockey in Grand Rapids. Koehn is one of five 1998-born players on the Bruins roster. 
19  Justin Misiak 5-10, 170 (St. Clair Shores, Mich.): The 19-year-old left-shot forward played three games in the NAHL for the Amarillo (Texas) Bulls last season. He spent the majority of the past two seasons playing in the U18 High Performance Hockey League for the Little Caesars U18 team. Misiak had 26 goals and 51 points in 53 total games over two seasons.
21  Gilbert Gabor 6-4, 220 (Stockholm, Sweden): The big 20-year-old continues on the Bruins' tradition of bringing in strong, experienced Swedish players (past Swedes to play for the team include Christian Folin, Alex Pettersson and Jacob Kullberg. Played for the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL, a Canadian Major Junior league, in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Played for four different teams in Sweden last year, totaling nine goals and 21 points in 44 games.
22  Travis Kothenbeutel 5-10, 165 (Sauk Rapids, Minn.): Spent a majority of last season with the Granite City Lumberjacks of the North American Tier 3 Hockey League. Totaled 21-31--52 in 50 games for Granite City. Scored the game-winning goal in the Silver Cup Finals, lifting the Lumberjacks to the Tier III national championship. ... Was on the Bruins roster for the entire NAHL postseason, but didn't appear in a game. Played in eight regular-season games for the Bruins, recording two goals and three assists.
24  Evan Cholak 5-8, 160 (Kenosha, Wis.): The young (17-year-old) left-shot forward is in his first season in the NAHL after averaging close to a point per game last season. He put up 23 points in 26 games for the Chicago Mission U18 team in the High Performance U18 Hockey League. Prior to that, he spent two seasons with the Milwaukee Jr. Admirals U16 club in the Tier I U16 Elite League. 
25  Zach Kennedy 6-1, 200 (Eagle River, Wis.): The 19-year-old forward is in his second season with the Bruins. Kennedy had 20 points in 56 games last season, including playing in eight playoff games. He had a plus-11 plus/minus rating and 94 penalty minutes. He was also among the team leaders with four game-winning goals.
26  Austin Rueschhoff 6-6, 210 (Wentzville, Mo.): The big power forward who turned 18 last week played in 26 NAHL games last season with three different teams. He stuck with the Richfield-based Minnesota Magicians for a majority of his NAHL time, playing 22 games and scoring five goals. He played for the St. Louis Selects U16 team in the North American Prospects Hockey League from 2012-2014. He scored 17 goals and had 43 points in 43 games over two seasons for St. Louis.
27  AJ Drobot 5-8, 175 (Churchville, Pa.): The Bruins' third-round draft pick in June's NAHL Draft is just 17 years old and is already committed to the University of Maine. Played one game for Sioux Falls in the USHL last season. Put up 11-18--29 in 35 games for the EHL's New Jersey Rockets in 2014-15. Was a big scorer for the Rockets' U19 Midget team in 2013-14, putting up 43-22--65 in 52 games. One of six Bruins draft picks on their roster.
28  Nigel Nelson 6-3, 215 (Chicago): Another of the Bruins' big, strong forwards, the 17-year-old was the team's eighth-round pick in June's NAHL draft. He played the past two seasons for the Chicago Young Americans U16, recording eight goals and 15 points, as well as 40 penalty minutes, in 35 games. He played for the Team Illinois Bantam team in 2012-13, recording six points in 23 games.
 Derek Olmschenk 6-5, 225 (Lino Lakes, Minn.): One of two returning defensemen from last year's Robertson Cup Finals team. The 20-year-old recorded eight points (4-7--11) last season, and 28 penalty minutes in 55 total games. He appeared in 10 playoff games. He played high school hockey at Cretin-Derham Hall, where he recorded 11-35--46 in his three-year varsity career.
4  Griff Slightam 5-10, 195 (Rochester): The 19-year-old tendered with the Bruins during last season after a five-year high school career at Rochester Lourdes. He was on three state tournament teams at Lourdes, including playing at state as an eighth-grader. Battled through some injuries as a senior, but recorded eight goals and 15 points. Finished his varsity career with 57 points. 
6  Johnny Pesek 6-1, 185 (Lake Forest, Ill.): The Bruins' 11th-round draft pick in June is just 16 years old (he turns 17 on Oct. 28). He played in two games last season for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers and one game for the Soo Eagles of the NAHL. Pesek had a big season for the Soo Indians U18 AAA midget team last year, scoring 18 goals and finishing with 47 points in 59 games. He also had 70 penalty minutes. 
7  Austin Hingtgen 6-1, 190 (Williston, N.D.): The 20-year-old blue-liner played in 28 games for the NAHL's Wichita Falls Wildcats last season, finishing with three points and 56 penalty minutes. Played the prior two seasons for Lake Forest (Ill.) Academy of the Midwest Prep Hockey League, where he recorded 11 points in 26 games over two years. Spent the 2011-12 season with the Omaha Lancers AAA U16 team.
11  Paul O'Connor 5-11, 175 (St. Peters, Mo.): The 19-year-old is entering his third NAHL season, having spent the past two playing for the Richfield-based Minnesota Magicians. O'Connor played in 55 games, and recorded eight points and 50 penalty minutes over two seasons with the Magicians. Played in a total of 50 games for Cedar Rapids of the USHL over the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. 
16  Zackary Taylor 5-9, 165 (Mahtomedi, Minn.): The 18-year-old helped Mahtomedi High School go 26-3-2 last season and place third in the Minnesota Class A state tournament. Had 26 points as a senior last season and finished his three-year varsity career with 41 total points and 72 penalty minutes. 
20  Nicklas Wilson 6-0, 185 (Dewitt, Mich.): The 18-year-old blue-liner was the Bruins' seventh-round pick in June's NAHL Draft. Played last season for the Michigan Nationals U18 midget team of the High Performance Hockey League. 
23  Dalton Gally 6-4, 215 (New Braunfels, Texas): The big blue-liner played for the Omaha AAA program last season. He played six games for the Omaha AAA High Performance Hockey League team, recording one assist. He also played 15 games for the Omaha AAA U16 team, collecting a goal and four assists. He also played in four games in the USHL for Des Moines. 
   Austin Smith 6-2, 170 (Orland Park, Ill.): Smith, 18, enters his first season in the NAHL after playing for the Chicago Mission U18 program in the High Performance Hockey League last season. He played in 12 games, and had a 2.24 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. He spent the 2013-14 season with the Chicago Young Americans team of the HPHL U16 league, where his numbers were very good (2.01, .926). 
30  Jacob Berger 5-11, 165 (Minnetonka, Minn.): Played three seasons of varsity hockey for the Minnetonka Skippers, one of the standout programs in Minnesota Class AA hockey. Went 22-20-2 in 44 starts in his high school career. Was 7-8-2 as a senior with a 2.80 goals-against average and an .899 save percentage. Led the Skippers to within one win of the state tournament last season, recording 21 saves in a heartbreaking 2-1 OT loss against Eden Prairie in the Section 6AA final. 
31  Kyle Madore 6-1, 170 (Venetia, Pa.)The 18-year-old Madore was Austin's fifth-round draft pick this summer. He was 11-5-0 with a 2.54 GAA and .906 save percentage with the Pittsburgh Penguins Tier I Midget team last season. Went 3-0 in the playoffs, with a 1.32 GAA and a .940 save pct. Brother, Rob, played goalie at the University of Vermont from 2008-12.

June 10, 2015

Junior Hockey | A look at the Austin Bruins draft class

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins' new coaching staff did a solid job of putting together its first draft class on Tuesday. Coupled with nine tenders who have already signed to play with the Bruins, Austin's first-year head coach Kyle Grabowski has a versatile group to work with come September.

Of course, we don't know who or how many of the draft picks and/or tenders will come to Austin, but if any of those 21 guys choose to play in the NAHL, the Bruins hold their rights. Keep in mind that NAHL teams often take flyers on players who could or likely will make a USHL (Tier I) team, or a team in a Canadian junior league. If things don't pan out in that league, the NAHL team then holds their rights at Tier II. 

So don't expect all 12 draft picks to be on the Bs roster in September. And don't be shocked if they're not all there at the Bruins tryout camp next month in Somerset, Wis. (July 7-10). 

Here's a look at the Bs 12 draft picks:

ROUND 1, No. 20 overall
Vince Marinaro, F, Des Moines (USHL) (3-11-97, 18-y-o) 5-10, 160: Marinaro split last season between Coulee Region of the NAHL and Des Moines of the USHL. He started the season with the Chill, recording 2-4--6 in 22 games, then put up 2 assists in 25 games with Des Moines. He had a goal and two assists in four games against the Bruins last season. He played for Team Illinois program from Bantam through U18 levels. In 2013-14, had 11-17--28 in 28 games with Team Illinois U18. Put up 8-5--13 in 26 games for Team Illinois U16 Midget in 2012-13. He is a native of Algonquin, Ill.
ROUND 2, No. 43 overall
Mason Anderson, D, Waterloo (USHL) (2-23-95, 20-y-o) 6-2, 174: Played 50 games in the USHL last season, the first 30 with Madison and the last 20 with Waterloo. Put up 1-5--6 in Madison and 0-1--1 in Waterloo. Listed at 6-2, 174 pounds. Originally from Anchorage, Alaska. A '95 birthdate, will turn 21 next February. In 2013-14, played for Drumheller of the AJHL and Weyburn of the SJHL. Prior to that, played Bantam and Midgets for the Alaska Wolves U14, 14AAA and 16AAA programs. Also played for the Alaska Acaes Midget 18AAA team.
ROUND 3, No. 48 overall
IAN BECK, D, Milwaukee Jr. Admirals (TIEHL U18) (4-5-98, 17-y-o) 6-4, 200: Beck played for the Jr. Admirals and had 3-13--16 in 49 games this season. He is just 17 years old, will not turn 18 until next April. Bruins received this pick in a trade with the Minnesota Magicians. Beck is a Chicago native.
ROUND 3, No. 65 overall
A.J. Drobot, F, New Jersey Rockets (EHL) (4-14-98, 17-y-o) 5-8, 176: Played one game for Sioux Falls in the USHL this past season. Put up 11-18--29 in 35 games for the Rockets in 2014-15. Was a big scorer for the Rockets' U19 Midget team in 2013-14, putting up 43-22--65 in 52 games. Is a University of Maine commit. From Churchville, Pa.
ROUND 4, No. 87 overall
Frankie Sullivan, D, Springfield Pics (USPHL) (2-29-96, 19-y-o) 6-0, 187: Played for four different teams in the USPHL last season, finishing with Springfield for the final 23 games. Totaled 6-8--14 in 48 games. Prior to that, played high school hockey at Westminster Prep in Connecticut. A native of Fairfield, Conn.
ROUND 5, No. 109 overall
Kyle Madore, G, Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U18 (Tier I U18 Elite) (2-10-97, 18-y-o) 6-2, 165: Was 11-5-0, 2.54, .906 with Penguins Tier I Midget last season. Went 3-0 in the playoffs, with a 1.32 GAA and a .940 save pct. Brother, Rob, played goalie at the University of Vermont from 2008-12 and has played professionally in the ECHL since then. He played this season for the Cincinnati Cyclones. Another older brother, Matt, played for New Mexico in the NAHL in the 2010-11 season. Athletic ability runs in the family. Former Minnesota Twins pitcher Kevin Slowey is their cousin.
ROUND 6, No. 126 overall
Logan Haskins, F, Rochester Mayo (MN-HS) (1997) 5-9, 155: Haskins led the city in scoring for a second consecutive season last season as a senior. The diminutive, slick-skating playmaker finished his three-year varsity career with 116 points and he put up at least one point in 23 of Mayo's 26 games this season. He also had 13 multi-point games this season, playing on a line that combined for 125 points.

Round 7, No. 141 overall
Nick Wilson, F, Michigan Nationals U18 (ECEL) (Birthdate, Ht., Wt. N/A)

Wilson skated for the Michigan Nationals last year in the Midget Major division of junior hockey, where the team competed against HPHL, T1EHL and East Coast Elite League (ECEL) teams. The 18-year-old from Bartlett, Ill., was teammates with current Bruins tender Brendan VanSweden on the Nationals and could be teammates again in Austin next year.

Round 8, No. 153 overall
Nigel Nelson, F, Chicago Young Americans U16 (HPHL) (1-17-98, 17-y-o) 6-1, 170
Nelson had a strong final season in the U16 division of the HPHL last year for the Chicago Young Americans. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native tallied 13 points (7-6--13) in 25 games and turned 17 in January. Nelson is listed as a 6’1 forward and would finish high school in Austin if he makes the Bruins roster. Before playing for CYA, he played for Team Illinois’ AAA bantam team.

Round 9, No. 164 overall
Ezra Hall, F, Winnipeg Blues (MJHL) (4-9-96, 19-y-o) 6-5, 201
Hall is the only member of the Bruins’ 30-player protected roster from Canada, as he hails from Winnipeg. The 19-year-old defenseman played for the Winnipeg Blues in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) last year, where he had 26 points (12-14--26) in 53 games. Hall’s size could be a huge factor on the Bruins’ blue line.



Round 10, No. 174 overall
Jacob Paganelli, F, Shattuck St. Mary's Prep (3-28-97, 18-y-o) 5-11, 170
Paganelli, from Verona, N.J., has committed to play for Division I Princeton University in his home state, beginning with the 2016-17 season. He could add a big scoring punch to the Bruins if he doesn’t play in the USHL next year. Paganelli finished with 59 points (24-35--59) in 54 games last season at Shattuck.

Round 11, No. 184 overall
Johnny Pesek, D, Soo Indians 18U (Midget Major) (10-28-98, 16-y-o) 5-10, 150Pesek is the youngest of the 12 Bruins draft picks but has a very high ceiling with four years of junior eligibility remaining. The defenseman from Lake Forest, Ill., won’t turn 17 until October, and spent last season playing AAA midget majors for the Soo Indians 18U team. Pesek finished with 47 points (18-29--47) in 59 games for the Indians and also had the opportunity to play in two USHL games for the Green Bay Gamblers alongside former Bruins Sam Kauppila and Jason Pawloski.

June 02, 2015

Junior hockey: The Austin Bruins officially announce new coaching staff

Posted by: Feldman

As we reported in this story on Friday, and as has been rumored for more than two months, the Austin Bruins have named Kyle Grabowski as the second head coach/GM in franchise history. He takes over for Chris Tok, who was fired two weeks ago after five seasons, 203 wins, three division titles and consecutive trips to the Robertson Cup the past two seasons.

Here's the full release from Bruins media relations coordinator John Peterson, minus one line that included his phone number. :)

The release also notes the hiring of assistants Keenan Kelly and Brad Clayton.

The NAHL Draft is a week from today and Bruins tryout camp is set for July 7-10. Three months from now, players will be reporting to Riverside Arena for the start of another season.

The Austin Bruins are ready to usher in a new era and finalized its coaching staff Monday for the 2015-16 season.

Kyle Grabowski was named the second Head Coach in franchise history Friday, and will be joined by Keenan Kelly and Brad Clayton on the Bruins bench.

As a staff we’re really excited,” said Grabowski. “There is such a good following for the team in Austin. The community shows so much support and obviously [the Bruins have] had a lot of success.”

Grabowki grew up in Oakdale, MN where he played goalie for Tartan High School, before manning the crease at Marion University from 2003-07. His coaching career began in 2010 as an assistant for the Idaho Junior Steelheads of the Western States Hockey League (WSHL).

After spending three years as an assistant, Grabowski was named Head Coach and General Manager of the Steelheads in 2013-14, where he led Idaho to a 39-5-2 record and a runner-up finish for the Tier III National Championship.

Grabowski made the jump to the NAHL last year where he was the assistant coach of the Brookings Blizzard, working alongside Head Coach Dan Daikawa.

I learned the league last year working with [Daikawa] in Brookings, like working through trades and tenders. He was a great resource and I thank him a lot for what he’s done.”

Kelly will be the Bruins’ new assistant coach and he and Grabowski have worked together before. When Grabowski started with Idaho in 2010-11, Kelly was in his second year on staff. The Boise, ID native went to Northern Michigan University the following year where he has been a student assistant the past four seasons.

Keenan and I have known each other a long time and I’m excited to coach with him again,” said Grabowski. “It’s good to work with people you trust.”

Monday the Bruins announced that Brad Clayton will be the third member of the Austin coaching staff, joining the team as an assistant coach and Director of Player Personnel. Clayton spent the past four seasons as head scout for the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, and the past three as the Director of Scouting for the Janesville Jets. He also scouted for the Silver Cup winning Granite City Lumberjacks of the NA3HL the last three years.

Now the work begins, as June figures to be a pivotal month for recruiting.

The biggest challenge is preparing for the draft and recruiting this summer,” said Grabowski. “June will be a crazy month and we have a lot of work to do.”

The new bench boss has already reached out to players from the 2014-15 Bruins team that still have junior hockey eligibility and has contacted all ten of Austin’s tenders, who he believes can contribute next year and says are excited to come to Austin.

Austin’s new coaching staff will step into an organization that has been among the NAHL’s elite the past three years, and Grabowski excited for the opportunity to build on that success.

[Tok] and [Huffman] did a fantastic job here, but I expect us to have success and we will have to put our own stamp on things. I want our team to play hard, physical hockey and be the hardest team to play against.”

May 19, 2015

BLOG | Bruins need to act soon on coaching decision

Posted by: Feldman

We'll put a wrap on the 2014-15 Austin Bruins season here on the blog tomorrow, but...

As was first reported here last night, Austin Bruins assistant coach Jamie Huffman has indeed resigned. 

Here's the story from today's P-B, with comments from Huffman and head coach Chris Tok, who is still in place and will continue his duties until told otherwise from Bruins ownership.

The Bruins owners, Craig Patrick and Mike Cooper, issued a brief statement today:

Bruins assistant coach Jamie Huffman will not return to Austin next season.

Prior to the beginning of the 2014-15-season coach Huff told Bruins ownership that he would likely not be back for the 2015-16 season. Several weeks ago Huff confirmed that he would not be back and asked that we not announce his departure until the end of the season. We respected his wishes and did not announce that he was leaving until today. 

In the three years that Huff has been the main recruiter for the Bruins he has been responsible for bringing in the talent that has brought us so much success.

The Austin Bruins organization wishes coach Huffman the best in all of his future endeavors.

Read into that what you will. It says nothing about Tok, who, as far as I can gather, has not been told if he'll be back or when or if he'll be let go. What I can tell you is that the relationship between the coaches and owners has been strained for some time, beyond just this season. That's pretty obvious, though, eh?

What we also know is that, if this team intends to be successful next season, it needs to make some decisions and make them fast. 

The NAHL Draft is 20 days away. Summer tryout camps need to be organized and operated; on a list of team tryout camps on the NAHL website, the Bruins are the only team in the league not on the list. Dates for a final team tryout/veteran camp need to be put in stone sooner than later. The Bruins still have two tenders available to fill. That also means they have a half-dozen players signed to tenders, including Rochester Lourdes defenseman Griff Slightam, and I'm positive those players would very much like to know who their coach(es) will be.

If, in fact, there is going to be a coaching change in Austin, a new staff will have to scramble to make sure the current tenders are going to come to Austin (they can't play for any other team in the NAHL, but they're not bound to play in the league) and they need to get tryout camps going; they're behind every other team in the league in that regard.

On top of that, Tok will have little time to look for a coaching job, if he decides to stay in coaching.

The longer this drags out, the worse it is for the product that will be on the ice this fall. Attendance at Riverside this season dipped below the 1,000-per-game average for the first time since the team's inaugural season. It was a drop of 226 fans per game in the regular season (from 1,215 to 989) compared to last season. Over the course of 28 regular-season home games (not 30, because two of every team's "home" games are held at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine, in September), that's more than 6,300 less fans. That's a lot of ticket revenue and concession stand revenue lost.


2010-11: 756
2011-12: 1,021
2012-13: 1,220
2013-14: 1,215
2014-15: 989

If the head coach -- whether it's Tok or someone new -- has little time to put together a team (kids are going to have 21 other NAHL tryouts to choose from, as well as USHL tryouts and some Tier III tryouts, such as the NA3HL), the team will be playing catch-up to the rest of the division. That's not an easy task, as we saw this season. Minot is improving every year. Bismarck had a "down" year and won't stay that way long. Aberdeen and Brookings gave the Bruins tough games every time they met, despite the S.D. teams not being as deep or talented.

Expectations have been set high in Austin. If the Bruins fall to the bottom of the division, what happens to attendance? Aberdeen finished fourth in the division standings this season, yet led the division in attendance at 1,419 fans per game. Will Riverside see that many if the Bruins are a sub-.500 team?

The point of this is, if the coaching situation isn't solved quickly, the on-ice product will suffer and the fans will, too.


Here are some more comments from Jamie Huffman and Chris Tok about Huffman's time with the Bruins and his departure:


"I'll miss the kids and I'll miss (Tok), too. He's really good at what he does and he gave me an opportunity I'll never forget. I'm most proud of those banners we hung. No one can ever -- ever -- take those away from us."

"I try to work hard and work with good people like (Tok) and I'm smart enough to know that I have to work even harder to keep up with them."

"It puts a smile on my face, even in the middle of a game, to look down by our locker room and see all those (former players) standing there. The bond we have ... we spend so much time together with them and hopefully have earned their respect."


"Jamie excels at numerous things, like getting more out of the players, the little things in practice. When they're doing drills, just the little things, telling them to go faster or push themselves more ... just the energy he brought to the rink every single day. He could be a gruff individual, but the players loved him."

"The name he's built for himself in recruiting and the resume he's built, it's all because he does his due diligence. He turned over every single rock on every single player to make sure he got the kids that were right for us."

"His favorite quote to recruits was always 'do your homework.' He meant do your homework on Chris Tok, ask other people. He would sell kids on our team, our program, but he wanted them to do their due diligence too. 
"When players come here, they know we are pretty demanding. Our players know what they're getting into when they come here. I've read and heard player say that it sinks in and they appreciate it more once they're gone."

"Jamie put a lot of time in with the players. He was a huge part of that bridge between the players, the captains, and me."


May 15, 2015

BLOG | Rochester's Zmolek has been key to Bruins playoff push, history of Robertson Cup

Posted by: Feldman

Since I'm settled into my press row seat at Riverside Arena with 85 minutes 'til puck drop, why not do one more blog before the Robertson Cup Finals begin?

Rochester Century standout defenseman Riese Zmolek played in four games for the Austin Bruins back in November, prior to the start of the high school season. When Century's season ended in the Section 1AA semifinals, Zmolek rejoined the Bs two days later. 

I've avoided writing much about him as a B for two reasons: 1) I wrote a lot about him -- deservedly so -- in his stellar high school career, and 2) I wanted to let him settle in with the Bruins and not write about him just because he's from Rochester.

He's definitely settled in and is a valuable member of the Bs defensive corps. They use him in every situation and full confidence in him. I talked with Bs coach Chris Tok before last weekend's national semifinals about Zmolek. Here's what he had to say about how Riese has adjusted to the NAHL.


Zmolek, 18, is one of three Bruins players who were selected in the USHL Draft a couple weeks ago, being picked in the second round by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. Defenseman Ian Scheid (Fargo) also went in the second round, and forward Nico Sturm (Tri-City) went in the 5th round.

"Riese can really bring something to a (USHL) hockey team and help them win and get into championships," Tok said. "They (USHL coaches) are looking for guys who win. Riese is here and he's won."

Tok said Zmolek has made his own name in hockey circles. Sure, everyone knows who his dad is (Doug, a veteran of 467 NHL games and a former first-round draft pick of the Minnesota North Stars), but Riese is in Austin because of his ability, not his name.

From the first time Riese played in a game with the Bs back in November, the coaching staff loved the way he always went full speed. If he made a mistake, he was doing it at full speed. There was no hesitation to his game. As Tok put it to me back in November, coaches love working with guys who play with some decisiveness. They can work to correct mistakes guys make while playing all-out. 

"Riese is probalby never going to get away from his last name," Tok said, "but he's a competitor just like his old man was and that's why he's here, not because of his dad, but because he's a competitor. He does things hard and he's decisive. You can't have a high school kid come in to this level and be soft. He has been a really good addition to our team and will make a good jump to the USHL."

As far using Zmolek in all situations, assistant coach Jamie Huffman runs the defensemen during games. He generally determines which pairings are put on the ice, with Tok, of course, holding veto power.

"Huff runs the D and has a lot of confidence in (Zmolek)," Tok said. "I can tell you that I have not walked down to that end of the bench and said 'hey, don't play him.' He's here to play. We didn't have him come after his high school season, or before, just to sit on the bench.
"When he came the first time (in November), he saw more power-play time. When he came back, we had some chemistry going on the power play and he hasn't seen as much time there.
"A couple things that make him so good defensively late in games is, he's hard on pucks, when he gets his stick in there it's heavy and he does something good with it. He's getting it out of the zone and not just flipping it softly. He protects the front of the net really well, knocks people down, and he's not afraid to block shots. If you do those things, it makes you a valuable asset."

Zmolek didn't have any points in 12 regular-season games, but has three points in 11 playoff games, including his first NAHL goal, which he scored in a 4-3 series-clinching Game 3 victory against the Aberdeen Wings in the first round of the divisional playoffs. 

Zmolek was somewhat of a free-wheeler at Century. That's not to say he was out of control, but because of his skating and puck-handling ability, he had the green light to go end-to-end, become a fourth forward whenever he chose.

The Bruins coaches have encouraged their offensive-minded d-men (specifically Zmolek and Ian Scheid) to use their skills and creativity, but to choose the proper spots to do so.

"We've talked to him a couple times, not necessarily backing him off, but about making the times he (jumps into the play), doing it more intelligently," Tok said. "We talk a lot about risk/reward. We want all our D to go, we want them all to jump, but ... a lot of them come in and, the thing we talk about a lot is, you don't have to do it all by yourself.
"We have no problem with you guys going, but beating guys 1-on-1 or trying to go through three or four guys, that's not what we're looking for, or what we expect you to do. But, by all means, go. You have instincts, use them. We're not throwing the reins and saying 'you have to stay back and play D and that's all we want you to do.' He has the creativity to go, it's just make sure you're doing it together."



To be honest, I had no idea until today what the Robertson Cup's origin is or why it's named as such.

My P-B colleague Donny Henn called it the "Frederick Cup" on a radio show a week or so ago. I like the ring of that, too, but we decided to just stick with the NAHL Championship Series for most of that show. 

That got me thinking, though, what's the origin of the Robertson Cup? I'm guessing a lot of players, and maybe some coaches, in the NAHL don't know either. 

The Robertson Cup is the trophy (good pic of it here) awarded to the NAHL playoff champion, which also is the USA Hockey Junior A, Tier II national champion. 

The Cup was brought into play for the NAHL champion in 1976 and was named the Robertson Cup in the 1980s, named after Chuck Robertson, a pioneer of junior hockey with the NAHL and in Michigan. Robertson was the owner of the Paddock Pools Saints (Estero, Mich.), who won the Cup seven consecutive seasons from 1976-83.

This weekend, a Minnesota team will win it for the first time in its 39-year history.

Either the Austin Bruins or Minnesota Wilderness will add their name this weekend to this list of past Robertson Cup champions:

2014 Fairbanks Ice Dogs
2013 Amarillo Bulls
2012 Texas Tornado
2011 Fairbanks Ice Dogs
2010 Bismarck Bobcats
2009 St. Louis Bandits
2008 St. Louis Bandits
2007 St. Louis Bandits
2006 Texas Tornado
2005 Texas Tornado
2004 Texas Tornado
2003 Pittsburgh Forge
2002 Compuware Ambassadors
2001 Texas Tornado
2000 Danville Wings
1999 Compuware Ambassadors
1998 Compuware Ambassadors
1997 Springfield Jr. Blues
1996 Springfield Jr. Blues
1995 Compuware Ambassadors
1994 Compuware Ambassadors
1993 Kalamazoo Jr. K Wings
1992 Compuware Ambassadors
1991 Kalamazoo Jr. K Wings
1990 Compuware Ambassadors
1989 Compuware Ambassadors
1988 Compuware Ambassadors
1987 Compuware Ambassadors
1986 Compuware Ambassadors
1985 St. Clair Falcons
1984 St. Clair Falcons
1983 Paddock Pools
1982 Paddock Pools
1981 Paddock Pools
1980 Paddock Pools
1979 Paddock Pools
1978 Paddock Pools
1977 Paddock Pools
1976 Little Caesars

Bear Tracks | Breaking down the Robertson Cup Finals

Posted by: Feldman

AUSTIN -- On Jan. 2, the Austin Bruins loaded up and bussed to Brookings, S.D., for what seemed like just another regular season game in the North American Hockey League. 

Two nights earlier, the Bruins had been beaten soundly on their home ice by the Coulee Region Chill, a 4-1 defeat that dampened the New Year's Eve celebration in A-town. 
But on Jan. 2, Evan Smith made 19 saves and -- fittingly -- Luke Dietsch and Trevor Boyd scored in a shootout to give the Bruins a 3-2 victory against the Blizzard. 
That started a second-half run where the Bruins went 21-3-3 and passed Minot to win the Central Division championship and lock up home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the NAHL postseason.
Somehow, a team that went through a 6-8-6 stretch in October and November -- and looked out of sync and disjointed on the ice -- came together and put together as dramatic a turnaround as you'll see.
And in less than six hours, they'll play host to Game 1 of the Robertson Cup Finals.
The Bruins will face another team, the Minnesota Wilderness, that at times this season looked like a long shot to make it out of their division playoffs. The Wilderness were down 2-0 in a best-of-five first-round series against Coulee Region. They rallied to win, then they swept defending national champion Fairbanks 3-0 in the Midwest Division Finals, THEN they swept the NAHL's best regular-season team, Janesville, in the national semifinals.
That has set up an all-State of Hockey Robertson Cup. One team will hoist it, either after Saturday's Game 2 or Sunday's if-necessary Game 3.
But Game 1 is what's on tap tonight.
For the final time this season, let's break down this weekend's series:
• Bruins second-year forward Luke Dietsch has battled ups and downs on and off the ice this season. He went through the Bs tough stretch early in the season, and just as the team was starting to turn things around, he found his father, Mark, had been diagnosed with cancer. Click on the link to read my story from Thursday's P-B.
Here is my preview, also from Thursday's P-B, of the Robertson Cup Finals.
Here is my feature story from today's P-B on Wilderness goalie Brock Kautz, who played one season at Rochester Century, as a sophomore in 2009-10, with his brothers, Brandon and Cory, before leaving for the NAHL. This is Brock's fifth season in the league.
• My blog post from yesterday is here, which notes how Bruins coach Chris Tok went about choosing his starting goalie for the decisive Game 3 of the Robertson Cup semis, as well as a note about the great plays Alex Jasiek and Nico Sturm made on the game-winning goal against Lone Star.
Jeff Papas, the radio play-by-play voice of Minnesota-Duluth football, wrote a story on the Wilderness for the Cloquet Pine Journal, looking back on their national semifinal victory against Janesville and looking ahead to this weekend's series in Austin.
Jamey Malcomb of the Duluth News-Tribune also wrote about Kautz and his struggles with an injury this season in this preview of the Robbie Cup.
Best 2 out of 3
At Riverside Arena, Austin
Today: Wilderness at Austin, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Wilderness at Austin, 7:05 p.m.
x-Sunday: Wilderness at Austin, 5:30 p.m.
x--if necessary 
Records: Minnesota 39-15-6 reg. season, 47-17-6 overall; Austin 38-11-11 reg. season, 46-14-11 overall.
Path to the Robby Cup semisMINNESOTA -- defeated Coulee Region 3-2 in Midwest Division semifinals; defeated Fairbanks 3-0 in Midwest Division Finals; won at Janesville 2-0 in Robertson Cup semifinals. AUSTIN -- defeated Aberdeen 3-0 in Central Division semifinals; defeated Minot 3-2 in Central Division finals; won at Lone Star 2-1 in Robertson Cup semifinals.
Head coachesMINNESOTA -- Corey Millen (2nd season, 84-31-15); AUSTIN -- Chris Tok (5th season, 203-107-29).
Wilderness' leading scorers (reg. season/overall): F 22-Darian Romanko (31-30--61 / 38-41--79); F 15-Aaron Miller (21-39--60 / 24-49--73); F 26-Tyler Cline (23-22--45 / 28-29--57); D 13-Ivan Chukarov (12-31--43 / 12-37--49); F 19-Michael Covach (15-27--42 / 19-30--49); F 25-Niklas Lehtimaki (20-14--34 / 24-18--42).
Wilderness' goalies (reg. season/playoffs): 30-Ryan Anderson (24-7-5, 2.37, .890 / 0-1, 3.09, .846); 1-Brock Kautz (14-8-1, 2.33, .906 / 8-1, 1.85, .931).
Bruins leading scorers (reg. season/overall): F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50/30-31--61); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43/15-39--54); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41/18-36--54); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37/14-31--45); D Ian Scheid (12-23--35/14-29--43); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39/23-19--42).
Bruins goalies (reg. season/playoffs): Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct./4-3, 1.97, .912); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923/4-0, 2.70, .894).
Records (reg. season/playoffs): Minnesota 39-15-6, 8-2 (47-17-6 overall); Austin 38-11-11, 8-3-0 (46-14-11 overall).
Advantage: Bruins
Head-to-head: Austin 5-2-1, Wilderness 3-2-3.
Advantage: Bruins
Offense: Minnesota 251 goals in 70 games (3.59/game); Austin 250 goals in 71 games (3.52/game).
Advantage: Wilderness
Defense: Minnesota 173 goals allowed in 70 games (2.47/game); Austin 162 goals allowed in 71 games (2.28/game).
Advantage: Bruins
Power play (NAHL rank)Minnesota -- reg. season 59-246 (23.98 pct., 2nd in NAHL); postseason 9-30 (30.0 pct., 5th in NAHL); overall 68-276 (24.6 pct.). Austin -- reg. season 38-268 (14.18 pct., 19th in NAHL); postseason 10-25 (40.0 pct., 1st in NAHL); total 48-293 (16.4 pct.).
Advantage: Wilderness
Penalty kill (NAHL rank)Minnesota -- reg. season 203-249 (81.5 pct., 15th in NAHL); playoffs 32-33 (96.97 pct., 2nd in NAHL); overall 235-282 (83.3 pct.). Austin -- reg. season 248-275 (90.18 pct., 1st in NAHL); playoffs 32-38 (84.21 pct., 9th in NAHL); total 280-313 (89.5 pct.).
Advantage: Bruins
Goaltending (save pct.)Minnesota -- reg. season .890; playoffs .919; overall .895. Austin -- reg. season .907, playoffs .900, overall .906.
Advantage: Bruins
The stats breakdown points toward the Bruins winning. Having watched these teams, logic points toward a toss-up series, just like last weekend's national semifinals.
The Bs and Wilderness were evenly matched during the regular season, with four of their eight meetings going to overtime or a shootout. When the Wilderness swept the Bs in Cloquet in November, Austin was struggling. When the Bs swept the Wilderness at Riverside in mid-March, the Wilderness were struggling. 
In the words of Red Wing High School girls hockey coach Scott Haley, this time of year your team's "big knockers gotta knock." (And, yes, I'm going to use that quote over and over and over as long as I write about hockey ... the media hopes Haley never leaves. He's a quote machine).
Those top guns from each team were the ones who did most of the scoring in the regular season meetings.
Austin's leading scorer Trevor Boyd averaged a point per game against the Wilderness this season (5-3--8), while forwards Alex Pettersson and Nico Sturm both had six points (both had 0-6--6).
Gophers commit Darian Romanko (3-3--6), Bemidji State commit Aaron Miller (3-3--6) and defenseman Janis Jaks (0-6--6) shared the scoring lead for the Wilderness against the Bruins this season. Jaks is the lone surprise of the group, as he had just 13 points in the regular season, nearly half of them coming in eight games against Austin.
In other words, when the top lines are on the ice, don't take your eyes off the game. 
I've been trying to filibuster here, hoping this gets me to 7:05 and I wouldn't have to  give a prediction. But I can't write for five more hours, so here goes...
The Wilderness have been red-hot, winning eight in a row. I think they stretch that streak to nine tonight, considering the talent they have and the fact that Austin hasn't been very good in series-opening games on its home ice the past two years. BUT, this Bruins team has been proving doubters wrong all season. It hasn't always been pretty, but they keep finding ways to win.
The last team to appear in back-to-back Robbie Cup Finals was the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in 2010 and 2011. The Ice Dogs lost to Bismarck in 2010 then won it in '11. I think the Bs match that trend this weekend.
The call: Austin in 3 (Game 1: Minnesota 4, Austin 2; Game 2: Austin 5, Minnesota 3; Game 3: Austin 4, Minnesota 3, OT).

May 14, 2015

Countdown to the Robertson Cup

Posted by: Feldman

As I begin to type, we are exactly 31 hours from the first drop of a puck in the 2015 Robertson Cup Finals.

If you had told me back in September that not only would the Austin Bruins be playing in the Robbie Cup again, but that they'd be playing host to it -- and against the Minnesota Wilderness, a second-year franchise in the NAHL -- I'd have said, "sure, and the Vikings are going to win the Super Bowl this year."

We know how it worked out for the Vikings, but the Bs and Wilderness still control their fate. 

We'll have plenty of time to look back on how far Austin has come this season after the finals, but their second straight appearance in the Cup Finals is a testament to the players buying into what the coaches have asked them to do. 

The same goes for the Wilderness. They lost one of the best goalies in the league last season, Kasimir Kaskisuo, to D-I Minnesota-Duluth, yet here they are, coming to Riverside Arena to play for a national championship. And they've replaced Kaskisuo nicely, with former Rochester Century goalie Brock Kautz playing like the veteran he is. He has won eight consecutive starts in this postseason and is playing with a world of confidence.

Speaking of Kautz, I'll have a story on him in Friday's P-B. I see it's already made its way to our website, so here's a link to it.

Today, I have a short preview of the series in the P-B.

Also, I have a profile on Bruins second-year forward Luke Dietsch, who has battled through ups and downs on and off the ice this season, including his father being diagnosed with cancer early this year. Dietsch is one of five Bruins players who played in last year's Robertson Cup Finals, which the Bruins lost 2-0 at Fairbanks.

I'll do the Tale of the Tape and make a prediction on the blog tomorrow. 


I have no idea who will start in goal for the Bruins in Friday's Game 1. I don't know if the Bs coaching staff even knows. My guess would be Evan Smith, who saved the Bs season in OT of Game 3 against Lone Star on Sunday when he stopped Brahmas forward Pat Egan on a clean breakaway. It looked like a penalty shot, Egan was so wide open behind the Austin D. But Smith shot out his pad to make the save. A few minutes later, Alex Pettersson scored to send the Bs back to the Robbie Cup Finals.

I'd guess Smith gets the nod in Game 1 because that's the way things have gone in the second half of the season. If Smith or Jake Kielly win a game and play well, they have started the next one. When one of them has struggled, the other one has started the next game. It's made for good competition and motivation for both of them. 

After Sunday's game, I asked Bs coach Chris Tok why he went with Smith in Game 3, after Kielly had won Game 1 with a tremendous performance, then allowed just one five-on-five goal in a 3-1 Game 2 loss.

"Evan, he played, there was one goal maybe a little suspect, but in the third period and OT, he competed and battled, made huge saves. It's great the competition we have between the two. Being able to play a different goalie in a third game in three days, it helped. It was a factor. Evan stayed focused and sharp.
"That was primary reason Evan played. I can't look at Jake and say (the Game 2 loss) was his fault. We're not saying that at all. It goes back to a gut decision; as soon as we lost (Game 2), I was thinking 'OK, it's Evan's turn' ... he hasn't done anything to take himself out of the opportunity to start. It was a lot of pressure on him, giving up the first goal of the game, then the second one to put us down 2-1. You start wondering if you made right decision, but that's what we have to do. It's not anything against Jake, he was fantastic in Game 1 and solid in Game 2."
Before we completely move on to the Cup Finals, let's wrap up the semifinals, and Austin's 2-1 series win at Lone Star.
It's easy to focus on Alex Pettersson's game-winning OT goal when watching this video, but it took two heads-up plays just to give Pettersson and chance to shoot the puck.
First, it was Alex Jasiek using his speed to catch a Brahmas defenseman from behind and strip the puck away, which happens about 4 seconds into the clip. Bs forward Nico Sturm saw the turnover happen before the Brahmas defender who was trailing him and was able to stop and turn first, getting a step on that defender. That Brahmas player closed fast on Sturm and cross-checked him to the ice. Sturm still managed to get a good backhand pass off to -- well, he didn't know who he was passing to -- Pettersson, who then fired a perfect shot to beat Brahmas goalie Jake Kupsky cleanly. 
"Nico said he did," Tok said when asked if Sturm saw Pettersson open. "He said he didn't know exactly where (Pettersson) was, but he said he knew somebody was over that way. He used some good common sense too and realized that if him and Jasiek were outside the dot on this side of the ice, we should have somebody in the middle of the rink.
"Watching the video, Nico made a heck of a play, getting cross-checked down to the ice, going to his stomach and being able to make that long of a backhand pass right on the tape. That's a heck of a play."


One unique aspect of this series is that the teams played eight times during the regular season. It's rare for many NAHL teams to play an out-of-division opponent more than a couple of times during a season. Generally, teams meeting at the Robertson Cup either haven't met that season, or have only met once or twice.

There are no secrets with the Wilderness and Bruins, except maybe the status of injured Bs Tony Uglem and Brian Bachnak, both of whom were skating during practice Wednesday. I expect Bachnak will play and I wouldn't be surprised to see Uglem -- who hasn't played since Game 2 of the first round because of an upper-body injury -- give it a go, though I haven't been told yes or no on either.

But back to the series. I had a question over Twitter yesterday, asking which Wilderness players do Bs fans need to watch out for. So I went back through the eight games these teams played this season and tallied the individual scoring stats from those games.

The answers are about what you'd expect.

Bruins' leading scorer Trevor Boyd has eight points (five goals, three assists) against the Wilderness this season, the most goals and points of any player when these teams have met this season. Tony Uglem has four goals against the Wilderness and Brian Bachnak has three.

Wilderness forward Darian Romanko, a Gophers commit, is one of three players with six points against the Bruins in their eight regular-season meetings. Aaron Miller, a Bemidji State commit, and defenseman Janis Jaks also have six points each against Austin. 

That's it for now. We'll have more here tomorrow, in the hours leading up to Game 1. 

May 08, 2015

Junior Hockey | The Austin Bruins have come a long way to reach the Robertson Cup semifinals

AUSTIN -- Nine months ago 21 players reported to Riverside Arena for the first practice of a new season. 

Most of the faces were new to the Austin Bruins, with only five players back from a trip three and a half months earlier to the Robertson Cup Finals. 
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from this team when it came together the day after Labor Day. It was the first time since the Bruins inaugural year where they had so many new players. My expectations weren't sky high, like the previous two years, though I should've known better. 
The Bs jumped out of the gate with a fury, blitzing their way to wins in their first four games and the franchise's second NAHL Showcase championship.
Then reality hit. 
Austin went 6-8-6 over its next 20 games. The Bs looked disjointed and were struggling to find chemistry. 
In hindsight, the hot start at the Showcase followed by an ugly (by Bruins standards) two-month stretch was just what the team needed, though it didn't seem like it at the time. Lines were juggled not just from game to game, but from shift to shift.
By my count, the team used six affiliate players (counting current full-timer Riese Zmolek) at various times in order to put a full lineup on the ice. They've had 45 different players on the roster at one point or another, fielding nearly two full squads throughout the course of the season. That's a lot of coming and going, but that's how it works with the Bruins. If you're not the right fit for the team, you won't be around long. Some players, such as goalie Zach Driscoll and forward Trey Dodd, were called up to the USHL. 
Under coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Elliott Hogue, the Bruins have thrived by putting the right players into the right spots in their systems. Sometimes it's difficult to convince a guy who's been a scorer all his life that his best bet to win at the NAHL level -- and move on to play college hockey -- is to be a third-line checking guy. Sometimes it's difficult to get a guy to shoot more, believe that he can be an effective scorer in the NA. 
Austin's coaches and team captains excel at getting guys to buy into their roles. That's what happened over the course of this season. It just took a little longer than it usually does.
Since the calendar flipped to 2015 there haven't been many better teams in the league, certainly not in the Central Division. The Bruins are 27-5-3 since a 4-1 loss on their home ice to Coulee Region on New Year's Eve. 
I've used that stat -- the Bs' record since Jan. 1 -- a lot in the past couple months.  I've probably overused it, but I do so because I think it's the most concise way to sum up what this team has accomplished, just how dramatic its turnaround has been.
The Bruins have gone from a team that looked like it would be going on the road in the first round of the playoffs to a team that was one regular season win away from having home ice in the national semifinals. That's how tight this league is. Had Austin gone 5-6 in shootouts instead of 3-8, they're home this weekend for the Robertson Cup semifinals instead of being 900 miles south.
But let's be honest: If I had suggested to Tok back in late November that his team -- THIS team -- would be back in the national semis, he'd have probably locked me out of Riverside Arena. The Bruins are not complaining about where they are. They're not playing their best hockey of the season, but they're lightyears from being that team that won just six times in a 20-game stretch.
It's a testament to this group and its captains -- Brian Bachnak, Jake Arroyo and Cory Dunn -- that they're in Dallas this weekend to face the South Division champion Lone Star Brahmas in the Robby Cup semis.
It's as challenging of a regular season as the Bs have faced, on and off the ice, yet they're two wins away from playing for a national championship.
It won't be easy to get back to the Finals, but nothing has been easy for this group. It isn't loaded with natural scorers, like past teams that have had guys like Brandon Wahlin, CJ Smith, Jay Dickman, John Simonson, Guillaume Leclerc, etc.
These Bruins have to earn their success the hard way, with ice packs and Ace bandages. If they're to advance to the Robertson Cup Finals, they'll have to do it the same way. 
The Brahmas are a tough team to play against, with eight Division I commits on their roster, including NAHL MVP Sebastian Vidmar, who led the league with 35 goals and 80 points in the regular season. The 21-year-old is a load, too, at 6-2, 190 pounds. 
The Brahmas second-leading scorer, Swedish forward Ludvig Larsson, a Merrimack College commit, also had more points in the regular season (21-34--55) than Austin's leading scorer Trevor Boyd (26-24--50). But the Brahmas haven't been rolling past everyone. Five of their six playoff wins have come by one goal, the other by two goals, with an empty-netter at the end.
Last I talked to the Bruins coaches, they hadn't watched much video of the Brahmas yet, though I'm sure they've dissected it over and over again by now. It's tough to imagine the Brahmas bringing more speed and quickness than Minot did in the division finals. The Minotauros were so quick and got into their transition game so fast that the Bruins defensemen were often backing off faster than they needed to. 
The Bs are a better team when their defensemen can press the offensive play and their forwards can grind on the forecheck (I suppose that's a silly statement; who isn't a better team when they can do those things?). The point is, though, that's the game Austin is built to play. It doesn't always have to be pretty to be effective.
I'll stop rambling now and take a glance at the series:
First, a couple of links to stories:
• My feature story on Bruins forward Nico Sturm, whose improvement has mirrored the team's in the second half of the season
A notebook with a few items, including a brief preview of the Bruins-Brahmas series, a note on former Rochester Century goalie Brock Kautz, as well as a few paragraphs on the four players with local ties taken in this week's USHL Phase I and Phase II Drafts.
• The Robertson Cup Semifinals preview from, which notes that the Austin Bruins are the lone team returning to the national semifinals from a year ago.
• I have to put this in here, too: KIMT-TV's post-game coverage of the Bruins' Game 5 victory against Minot on Monday. KIMT's Ryan Shaver was sitting next to me throughout the game. When Austin's Brian Bachnak recorded assists on all three Bruins' goals in the second period of that game, Shaver said "I know three goals is a hat trick, what's three assists?" A quick Google search turned up an answer: "some people call it a 'Playmaker'" Google said, but no one sitting around us had ever heard that term used before. So we came up with a Bruins-specific term for three assists in a period: A Bach-Trick. I thought Ryan was joking when he said he was going to use the line on air, but he went with it and made it sound legit (plus he got me in the background of a fan-cheering shot 27 seconds in): Here's the video.
Best 2 out of 3
At North Richland Hills, Texas
Today: Austin at Lone Star, 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: Austin at Lone Star, 6:30 p.m.
x-Sunday: Austin at Lone Star, 5:30 pm
x--if necessary 
Records: Austin 38-11-11 reg. season, 44-13-11 overall; Lone Star 40-12-8 reg. season, 46-13-8 overall.
Path to the Robby Cup semis: AUSTIN -- defeated Aberdeen 3-0 in Central Division semifinals, defeated Minot 3-2 in Central Division finals; LONE STAR -- defeated Wenatchee 3-0 in South Division semifinals, defeated Topeka 3-1 in South Division finals.
Head coaches: AUSTIN -- Chris Tok (5th season, 201-106-29); LONE STAR -- Dan Wildfong (2nd season, 69-46-12)
Bruins leading scorers (reg. season/overall): F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50/28-31--59); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43/13-38--51); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41/17-34--51); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37/13-31--44); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39/23-19--42); D Ian Scheid (12-23--35/14-26--40).
Bruins goalies (reg. season/playoffs): Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct./3-2, 2.17, .907); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923/3-0, 3.00, .889).
Brahmas leading scorers (reg. season/overall): F Sebastian Vidmar (35-45--80/37-50--87); F Ludvig Larsson (21-34--55/23-36--59); F Oskar Andren (18-29--47/18-33--51); F A.J. Vanderbeck (21-14--35/22-16--38); D Alexey Solovyev (10-24--34/10-24--34).
Brahmas goalies (reg. season/playoffs): T.J. Black (21-8-4, 1.99 GAA, .915 save pct./1-0, 3.76, .810); Jake Kupsky (19-4-4, 2.16, .911/5-1, 1.67, .936).
Records (reg. season/playoffs): Austin 38-11-11, 6-2-0 (44-13-11 overall); Lone Star 40-12-8, 6-1-0 (46-13-8 overall).
Advantage: Brahmas
Head-to-head: Have not met this season.
Advantage: even
Offense: Austin 243 goals in 68 games (3.57/game); Lone Star 227 in 67 games (3.39/game)
Advantage: Bruins
Defense: Austin 156 goals allowed in 68 games (2.29/game); Lone Star 146 in 67 games (2.18/game)
Advantage: Brahmas
Power play (NAHL rank): Austin -- reg. season 38-268 (14.18 pct., 19th in NAHL); postseason 8-21 (38.1 pct., 2nd in NAHL); total 46-289 (15.9 pct.). Lone Star -- reg. season 55-281 (19.57 pct., 7th); postseason 2-21 (9.52 pct., 12th in NAHL); total 57-302 (18.9 pct.).
Advantage: Brahmas
Penalty kill (NAHL rank): Austin -- reg. season 248-275 (90.18 pct., 1st in NAHL); playoffs 28-33 (84.85 pct., 8th in NAHL); total 276-308 (89.6 pct.). Lone Star -- reg. season 235-267 (88.01 pct., 2nd in NAHL); playoffs 23-26 (88.46, 4th in NAHL); total 258-293 (88.1 pct.).
Advantage: Bruins
Goaltending (save pct.): Austin -- reg. season .907, playoffs .899, overall .906; Lone Star -- reg. season .910; playoffs .918; overall .911.
Advantage: Brahmas
While this year's Bruins team plays a different style than last year's, the attitude of the players and coaches feels identical to a year ago at this time. They're happy to be where they are, but not satisfied. And when it comes to two teams who haven't faced each other all season, comparing statistics is OK, but doesn't mean a whole lot, especially since there are no common opponents for these teams after the NAHL Showcase in mid-September (Lone Star played Janesville, Coulee Region and the Minnesota Magicians at the Showcase, but that was almost nine months ago, so throw it out the window).
This is a new spot for the Brahmas. It's a new spot for a majority of the Bruins, too, but not for their coaching staff or their captains. It sounds like the crowd at the Nytex Sports Arena in North Richland Hills, Texas, is somewhat like at Bruins home games, right on top of the opposing bench. That won't bother the Bs, though. They go through that enough in their own division. They went through it last year in this round, too, having to travel to Topeka.
Austin probably hasn't seen a scorer like Vidmar, so they'll have to know where he is at all times. I was trying to find some sort of video on Vidmar, and here's the best I could do: The NAHL Plays of the week from Dec. 22-28. His play begins at about the 2:34 mark.
I'd be tempted to pick the Brahmas to win the series, but I like the Bruins' attitude right now. They're playing only for each other and their coaches. Their goaltending has to be better than it was against Minot, but Jake Kielly and Evan Smith have shown mental toughness all season.
Like always, Austin won't make it easy, but they'll come out on top.
The call: Austin in 3 (Game 1: Austin 4, Lone Star 3, OT; Game 2: Lone Star 5, Austin 3; Game 3: Austin 5, Lone Star 3)