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39 posts categorized "Austin Bruins"

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.

BRUINS AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

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:

HUFFMAN:

"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."

TOK: 

"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."

--------

JUST WHAT IS THE ROBERTSON CUP?

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:
 
•••••
 
LINKS FROM THE RINK
 
• 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.
 
•••••
 
ROBERTSON CUP FINALS
MINNESOTA WILDERNESS at AUSTIN BRUINS
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 
 
•••••
 
THE SERIES
 
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).
 
•••••
 
TALE OF THE TAPE
 
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 CALL
 
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. 

A GUT FEELING ON GOALIES

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."
 
JASIEK + STURM + PETTERSSON = CUP FINALS
 
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."

WHO TO WATCH

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 NAHL.com, 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.
 
•••••
 
ROBERTSON CUP SEMIFINALS
AUSTIN at LONE STAR
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 
 
•••••
 
THE SERIES
 
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).
 
•••••
 
TALE OF THE TAPE
 
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
 
•••••
 
THE CALL
 
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)

May 05, 2015

Bruins end Minot's season, begin pursuit of Robby; local players selected in USHL Draft

AUSTIN -- Win or lose, good or bad, this Austin Bruins team is determined to give its fans heart attacks.

Monday night, the heart attacks were rewarded with a no-fingernails-left victory and another banner to add to the south wall at Riverside Arena.

The Bs built a 4-1 lead against Minot with a dominant second period in the decisive Game 5 of the NAHL Central Division Finals. Then they nearly gave it away in the third. Minot scored twice in the first 6:18 of the third and had a handful of other very good chances, but couldn't get another past Bruins goalie Jake Kielly (18 saves) and Austin survived with a 4-3 victory and a second consecutive trip to the Robertson Cup semifinals.

The Bs will have a quick turnaround, leaving Wednesday for Dallas suburb North Richland Hills. They'll open play in the best-of-3 national semifinals against the Lone Star Brahmas on Friday. Games 1 and 2 are set for 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A Game 3, if necessary, is at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

But back to Monday night. For a second consecutive year, Austin earned its way into the Robby Cup final four. 

Game 5 was everything we thought we'd get out of this series. I thought we'd see at least one game go to OT, and Monday's game nearly did. Here's my game story from today's P-B

The Bs opened up a 4-1 lead in the second period when Nico Sturm, Josh Wilkins and Trevor Boyd scored in a flurry of goals in a span of 5 minutes, 34 seconds. Bs captain Brian Bachnak assisted on all three. The Boyd goal was the big one; it felt like a backbreaker at the time. It started when Minot goalie Atte Tolvanen stopped a Bachnak shot, but Boyd was trailing the play. He picked up the puck and made a nice, patient move to get Tolvanen out of position, then tucked the puck into an empty side of the goal.

True to form in this series, though, Minot battled back, scoring twice in the first seven minutes of the third to pull within 4-3. 

From there, it was some really good back and forth hockey. Both teams missed on more than one quality scoring chance. Alex Jasiek had a really good look from close range that Tolvanen sticked aside. More than once, the puck was lying loose in the crease and no Bs player could get a stick on it. 

Minot had its chances, too. The Tauros couldn't have asked for a better chance at the end of the game. They went on a power play for the final 1:25 and were 6-on-4 for all of that time, with Tolvanen pulled. Defenseman Jon Lizotte had the best looks, zipping a wrister high with 35 seconds left, then having a wrist shot swallowed up by Jake Kielly with 17 seconds left. 

HEADING TO TEXAS

The win is the 44th of the season for the Bruins and the 201st in franchise history. This team could tie last year's Bs team for the franchise record for wins in a season (48) if it captures the Robertson Cup championship.

That won't be an easy task. 

The Bs leave Wednesday on a flight to Dallas. They'll get a practice in on Thursday and (I'm assuming) a morning skate in on Friday, then (as I mentioned earlier) they'll face the South Division champion Lone Star at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Games 1 and 2. Game 3 is at 5:30 Sunday, if needed.

Strictly looking at records, Lone Star and Austin were about even during the regular season. The Brahmas were 40-12-8 in the regular season, for 88 points. The Bruins were 38-11-11, for 87 points. In other words, had the Bruins gone 5-6 in shootouts this season, as opposed to 3-8, they'd be playing at Riverside this weekend -- and I'd be saying "if Lone Star had just won one more game, this series would be in Texas."

Such is life in the NAHL, and it's why coaches stress all season long that every point is valuable. It may not seem like it when a team wins a division title by seven points, but when you get to this stage of the season, something as simple as two shootout losses can turn a potential home series into a 900-mile roadie.

Either way, the Bs are ecstatic to be able to keep playing. This was their goal since Labor Day, when players began reporting for this season. 

A PEEK AT THE BRAHMAS

We'll break down the Robby Cup semifinal series later this week, but here's a quick look at this weekend's opponent.

The obvious starting point is that the Bruins have to know where No. 22 is at all times.

That's Sebastian Vidmar, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound, 21-year-old forward from Malmo, Sweden. He's committed to 2014 NCAA national champion Union College.

Oh, by the way, Vidmar was the MVP of the entire NAHL this season, putting up 35 goals and 80 points in 58 games. He has two goals and seven points through seven postseason games. His regular-season numbers are the best in the league since the 2011-12 season. He also had a league-high 11 game-winning goals, the highest total in the league in seven years. He was named the NAHL Forward of the Month twice this season and has 105 points in 100 career regular-season games.

The Brahmas are coached by Dan Wildfong, the NAHL Coach of the Year. He guided Lone Star to a 26-3-1 home record (good thing the Bruins are a good road team) and has nine players committed to Division I schools.

Lone Star had three players record 21 or more goals -- Vidmar, fellow Swede Ludvig Larson, a Merrimack College commit (21-34--55) and Colorado College recruit AJ Vanderbeck (21-14--35).

In goal, another Union College recruit, Jake Kupsky, has taken control of the starting job in the postseason after splitting time almost equally with T.J. Black in the regular season.

Kupsky has the size (6-5, 210) to match both of the Bruins' goalies. In the regular season he was 19-4-4, with a 2.16 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. He is 5-1, 1.67, .936 in the playoffs.

All of those things considered, Lone Star hasn't been blowing out opponents in the playoffs. It is 6-1, but five of its victories have come by just one goal, while the sixth victory was a two-goal win with an empty-netter in the final 40 seconds.

Again, we'll have more on the Bruins-Brahmas series later this week in print and on the blog. 

----------

LOCAL PLAYERS SELECTED IN USHL DRAFT

As I write this, Phase II of the USHL Draft is nearly halfway complete, in round 12 of 27.

So far, three Austin Bruins have been selected.

Defenseman Ian Scheid was the highest-drafted Bruin, going No. 20 overall (4th pick of Round 2) to the Fargo Force.

Nine picks later, No. 29 overall (13th pick of Round 2), Rochester Century/Austin Bruins defenseman Riese Zmolek was picked by the Cedar Rapids Roughriders.

Bs forward Nico Sturm was selected in Round 5, No. 72 overall, by the Tri-City Storm.

In Phase I of the USHL Draft on Monday -- for '99 birth year players -- Rochester John Marshall standout Cory Checco was selected by the Sioux Falls Stampede. Checco has had two very good seasons, and I'm told was very good at the recent Final 54 tournament. He was JM's leading scorer this season with 15-16--31 in 26 games for the 13-13 Rockets.

----------

That's it for now; I'll update this post if more players with local ties are taken in today's USHL Draft.

April 26, 2015

Bear Tracks | Austin Bruins pull even in Central Division Finals

Posted by: Feldman
 
We have a playoff series.
 
Through six periods of the NAHL Central Division Finals, very little separates the top-seeded Austin Bruins and the second-seeded Minot Minotauros. 
 
And now the dislike that inevitably develops during a drawn-out series between two evenly matched teams is showing through.
 
Minot and Austin will head to Minot for Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-5 series on Friday and Saturday with the series tied 1-1. Austin rebounded from a 3-2 loss in Game 1 with a 4-1 victory in Game 2 on Saturday at Riverside Arena.
 
Good afternoon from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where Game 6 of the Minnesota Wild-St. Louis Blues series is underway. I'm playing catch-up on the Bruins Blog now, as sleep sounded better at 2 a.m. after writing a story for the Minot Daily News and this game story for the P-B.
 
As I said, we have a playoff series now in the Central Division Finals. Minot figuratively punched Austin in the mouth in Friday's Game 1. Punches were flying for real by the third period of Saturday's Game 2.
 
There was agitation -- to put it mildly -- on both sides Saturday. For the most part, Austin did a good job of ignoring the garbage Minot was throwing out there after the Bruins built a 3-0 lead 17:36 into the game. Forward, and assistant captain, Johnny Walker was the lead instigator for the Minotauros. But much like Steve Ott against the Wild, the Bruins did a pretty good job of turning away from Minot's junk. 
 
The exception was a double-minor that Zach Kennedy took late in the third period, giving the Tauros four minutes of power-play time that really could have swung the game. The Bruins held a 3-1 lead with 7:41 to go when Kennedy took four minutes of penalties. He slashed Minot's Mitch Snyder, then as Snyder was laying on the ice, Kennedy dropped his gloves, bent over and grabbed Snyder's jersey. At that point, it was like something went off in his head -- "I shouldn't be doing this" -- and he appeared to back off just as a linesman arrived to pull him away. He received two minutes for the slash and two for unsportsmanlike conduct.
 
Bruins coach Chris Tok didn't name names, but he noted "one guy stood up in the locker room and apologized to his teammates for his actions." I'll read between the lines and assume he's talking about Kennedy.
 
Quite frankly, it's hard to blame Kennedy for letting the frustration get to him in the moment. Minot's Walker was playing like a goon for good portions of the game, chasing Bruins players around the ice and running goalie Evan Smith in the third period, and defenseman Jared Brandt was throwing high elbows and crosschecks at Bruins players in the third.
 
Minot was not happy Friday night with the way Austin was crashing to the net and making contact with Tauros goalie Atte Tolvanen. I think the Tauros had a legit gripe on at least one occasion, when Tolvanen got sprayed in the face well after he covered a puck and a whistle blew.
 
This is playoff hockey, though. Both of these teams are battling for their seasons and, really, they're almost clones of one another. Neither team is willing to give an inch. That's going to make for some physical play and it certainly makes for a fun, entertaining series to watch.
 
-----
 
FIVE THOUGHTS FROM THE WEEKEND
 
1. Evan Smith -- The Bruins offense gave Smith a 3-0 lead after one period and he more than held his own, and made the score hold up. His three quick saves on Tauros forward James Mathias 5:45 into the second period were difference-makers. Mathias was all alone at the top of the crease. He had the puck and tried three quick stuff attempts, but Smith kicked his left pad out each time and turned Mathias away. Smith denied Mathias again about six minutes later, when Mathias had the puck on the doorstep on a power play and Smith made another big pad save. Smith was shaky in his first playoff start -- an 8-5 win against Aberdeen 22 days earlier in the first game of the first-round playoff series. But he showed no signs of rust on Saturday, making the first save and not allowing any bad rebounds. He covered pucks when he needed to and directed his rebounds into safe areas where the Tauros couldn't capitalize. I'd guess he starts Game 3 on Friday in Minot, but the Bs have two goalies playing very well, so there's no right or wrong decision about who to start in net.
 
2. Johnny Walker -- I've seen the Tauros captain play a few times and, when he wants to play hockey, he's a pretty darn good player. The problem is he was way more goon than playmaker on Saturday. His schtick is old and we're two games into the series. Twice he was knocked down, got up and chose to pick on the nearest player in a Bruins sweater. The first time it was Bruins' D-man Cory Dunn, the smallest guy on the ice. Walker played tough guy by getting right in Dunn's face behind the play and skating stride for stride up the ice with him, barking right in Dunn's face the whole way. The next time Walker was knocked down, he got up and chased Luke Forfar (I believe it was Luke; I couldn't see the Bs player's number to be sure) across the ice as Forfar was just trying to get off for a change. Walker cross-checked him, then forearmed him in the back. On top of that, I got a kick out of the two times Walker was knocked down and decided to lay on the ice for a good 20-30 seconds, well after play was stopped. He had no trouble popping up either time and skating back to the bench. He barked at the officials the whole way. They didn't buy his act, either. We'll see if a home-ice crowd in Minot changes that. The Bruins took a page from the Minnesota Wild in their series against the Blues, and chose to laugh or smile right back at Walker when he opened his mouth to chirp, which was pretty much every second he was on the ice. Bruins players and coaches had some good comments about Walker's, uh, style of play, that you can read below. 
 
3. Bruins' P.K. -- Austin had the best penalty kill in the NAHL during the regular season and nothing has changed now. Minot was a combined 0-for-9 on the power play in the first two games of the series, including an 0-for-6 effort Saturday. Smith was a big factor in that. He was squared up to Minot shooters all night and anticipated their puck movement extremely well. A couple of times, Bruins players were caught out of position, but Smith had their backs. That's why Austin's P.K. has been so good all season (it was the only team in the NAHL to be better than 90 percent on the P.K. in the regular season), all three of its goalies are very good in penalty kill situations. The Bruins also did a much better job of blocking shots on Saturday. I don't chart those numbers, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it was in the 20s.
 
4. Evenly matched -- Through six periods this series is as evenly matched as we expected it to be. Both teams absolutely dominated one period over the weekend -- Minot controlled the second period Friday, Austin the first period on Saturday. But the similarities are many. Both teams have quality goalies -- Atte Tolvanen for Minot, Jake Kielly and Evan Smith for Austin. Both teams are deep up front and on the blue line, and both teams are strong on the penalty kill. The Bruins and Tauros both play strong defensive games, which should be no surprise considering Austin gave up the third-fewest goals in the NAHL this season (136), while Minot was right behind in fourth (137).
 
5. Top lines -- This was definitely the difference on Saturday. Minot had no answer for Austin's top line in the first period. Luke DietschTrevor Boyd and Alex Jasiek blew the doors off Riverside Arena in the first 20 minutes. They accounted for two of the team's first three goals and created multiple other chances. They were creating odd-man chances just off their puck movement in the zone. By contrast, Minot's top line didn't seem to much of a factor all weekend. The only time I noticed Tauros forward Blake Lizotte -- the Central Division Forward of the Year -- was in warmups, or when I looked for him specifically. He's too good of a player to keep down long. I'd be shocked if he doesn't have an impact in Game 3 or 4. That said, Minot showed its depth in Game 1, winning without a goal from its top line.
 
-----
 
THEY SAID IT...
 
Comments from Bruins coach Chris Tok, goalie Evan Smith, defenseman Cory Dunn and Tauros coach Marty Murray that didn't get into the game story.
 
BRUINS COACH CHRIS TOK
 
The physical play in the contest...
 
One guy stepped up in the room there and apologized for his actions. For the most part, I like the way the guys stay composed and stuck together. Basically what they've been saying is this is a group of brothers, a family.
 
On Tauros forward Johnny Walker and his play...
 
We've been talking about him for two weeks. The four games we played against them early in the season he was a major factor in causing us to not be intelligent against him. That's what he's gonna do, that's his M.O. Running the goalie? That's him. Cross-checking guys in the head? That's how he plays the game. We know that. Retaliating against him, that's not important. What's important is winning the game. Standing up for your brother, there will be a time and place.
 
How big was getting the 1st goal tonight?
 
I think that was great for our guys' momentum. We might have had a little hesitation in their brains, you know, thinking 'hey, can we get this done?' To get that quick goal, it gave us a lot of life and the guys kept saying 'we're not going to be denied. They're not going to stop us tonight.'"
 
Thoughts on goalie Evan Smith's play?
 
Especially in second period, in one sequence he made those four left-pad saves in a row -- bam-bam-bam-bam. He was able to keep himself big and they couldn't shoot anywhere else. It was a key turning point in the game. Then he got ran in the third period and got a little feisty, which is OK, but we want to make sure he focuses on stopping the puck, which he did for the most part tonight.
 
Killing the 5-on-3...
 
It was huge. They had a 5-on-3 and made some good saves. He didn't give up a ton of rebounds. Anytime the puck came near him, he did a pretty good job of freezing it. When you're on a penalty kill that helps a lot so you can get some fresh guys out there.
 
How do you keep up this urgency going into Minot?
 
We haven't accomplished anything. We tied the series. We don't have home-ice (advantage). We're right there, we've been in this position before. As long as our guys play the way they did in the first period tonight, we'll be happy.
 
What type of environment do you expect up there?
 
It'll be pretty rowdy. I looked at their crowd on some video (from the first-round series against Bismarck), it was a jam-packed place. I think 1,500 people, similar to what we have here. They had to bring the security behind Minot's bench tonight. The only good thing is there are no stands behind our bench. They have a pretty ruckus crowd. They've never been in this position before in franchise history, so it's a pretty big deal.
 
--------
 
BRUINS D CORY DUNN
 
On Minot's Johnny Walker...
 
We know that's his game. His game is to try to get under our skin, try to get us off our game and take stupid penalties. All week, coach Tok and Huff were kind of joking with us, calling us 'Johnny Walker, Johnny Walker' to kind of get us ready for the weekend. It sounds funny, but we all told our teammates just to smile. Nothing (ticks) someone off more than when they're beaking you trying to get a response and all you do is smile back at them. For the most part we didn't give them any time of day to get under our skin.
 
Thoughts on the physical play in the series?
 
In a playoff series, that's always a huge part. It's a long series, so every hit on the body is wear and tear. We harp on finishing every check throughout the series and try to wear them down.
 
How big was the first goal?
 
It was huge. We were pretty upset last night and knew that made today's game even bigger and we needed (to win). To come out with fire and pop a couple in right away was really big.
 
Play of Evan Smith in goal?
 
He played great. There were a couple times where we were scrambling in our own end, especially on the penalty kill and I don't know how, but he found a way to get his body in front of the puck. And if he wasn't blocking the puck, it was other players laying out to block shots.
 
--------
 
BRUINS GOALIE EVAN SMITH
 
Killing the 5x3 up 3-1...
 
It was a time where they could've grabbed some momentum if they scored. For the entire team, it was a time to dig deep, block some shots, get in the way and kill this off. We didn't want them to get the momentum there.
 
Thoughts on Minot's play, being physical with you?
 
It's something you have to think about, but you can't let them get in your head. You just have to let them hit you, shake it off and get back at them on the scoreboard.
 
What does it do for you as a goalie when you see teammates selling out to block shots?
 
It just shows that the rest of the team has bought in to what we want to do. It makes you feel like we've really come together as a team and it makes you want to play hard for that guy as much as he does for you. It drives me to be as good of a goalie as I can be.
 
Level of urgency for this team in Game 2?
 
We came out flying, had our feet moving from Minute 1, got the three early goals and held onto it.
 
Getting first goal?
 
It shows that this is what's it going to be like and this is what it needs to be. It builds the momentum right up front. To get that goal to give you the lead, you don't want to lose it.
 
--------
 
TAUROS COACH MARTY MURRAY
 
What was the difference from the first period to the final two on Saturday?
 
We talked about it. We knew they were going to come out strong. They didn't think they worked very hard (Friday) night. We knew they were going to come out charging and we weren't ready for it. It was boys against men in the first period. They took it to us in every facet of the game. We got what we deserved in the first. For the last 40 (minutes), we played pretty solid hockey, but you can't be down 3-0 after one.
 
Thoughts on going home with the series tied 1-1?
 
If you could draw it up and say you get a split, you'd be somewhat happy with it, but we've been in this situation the last two years, getting a split here, then we didn't respond well enough at home. I'd like to think our group this year has a little more character than we've had in the past, but we know it's not going to be easy. It's going to be a battle.

April 24, 2015

Bear Tracks: The Division Finals begin for the Austin Bruins

Posted by: Feldman

Good afternoon from casa de Feldy. I meant to have this done last night, but kids have a way of pushing my work timeline back. At least I'm hitting "publish" on this post a good 3 1/2 hours before puck drop. That feels like an accomplishment!

I'll be SpamTown-bound in less than two hours to watch Game 1 of what should be a hard-fought and entertaining NAHL Central Division Finals playoff series.

The Minot Minotauros (40-17-6) and Austin Bruins (41-11-11) are pretty much mirror images. Great coaching staffs on both sides. Balanced, deep lineups on both sides. Both teams like to play a physical, gritty style of hockey. As Bs forward Luke Dietsch put it to me a few days ago, the defensemen in this series will have fun standing out at the point and bombing away, then it's up to the forwards out front to win some battles and get some greasy goals.

Before we get too far into the series, here a few links to stories to check out when you have some time:

ROCHESTER POST-BULLETIN

* Bruins coaches could be in their final run with the team (we'll get more into this shortly)

* Series preview: Bruins ready for all-out battle against Minot

MINOT DAILY NEWS

* Veteran coaches have been key to Tauros' success

Also, for Minot's perspective on the series, follow the Minot Daily News' Tauros beat writer Joe Mellenbruch at @Mellenbruch_MDN

-----

COACHING QUESTIONS

As far as what's happening with the Bruins coaches, let's keep this short, because it's time to focus on a huge series for the Bs and Tauros. Many things have been reported in the past few days. All we can do as reporters is report what's been told to us on the record. That said, some things have been put out there that aren't accurate.

I'll stand by what was written in the story linked above and the couple of tweets that I put out there on Wednesday.

Here's what I'd say: Go back and read the initial tweets put out by Andy Johnson, a USHL and NAHL scout who, until recently was also the main University of WIsconsin writer/reporter for Bucky's 5th Quarter, a website dedicated to Badgers athletics. Andy knows his stuff and he takes a lot of pride in being correct. The only thing I have been told is that Brookings' Kyle Grabowski has not yet been offered the coaching job, though he did interview for it.

I can't get Andy's initial tweets to embed, so here are links to them:

1. The initial tweet that got the ball rolling

2. The follow-up tweet

3. First time Grabowski's name was brought into this

I'll add this: I've never met or communicated with Kyle Grabowski and didn't intend for anything I've written to reflect negatively upon him. He, or whoever ends up being the next coach of the Bruins, has a tough act to follow. With as competitive as the NAHL has become, you can't just throw a team on the ice and expect to win. You have to be willing to work, or at least be on call, 24/7, 365. To win, you have to turn over rocks that other scouts don't even know are there. I'll have a story next week in the P-B, leading into Games 3 and 4 of the Minot-Austin series, addressing just how hard it is to win in the NAHL these days.

-----

Let's move on to some hockey, eh?

NAHL CENTRAL DIVISION FINAL SERIES
AUSTIN BRUINS vs. MINOT MINOTAUROS

Schedule
Game 1: 7:05 p.m. tonight, at Austin
Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Saturday, at Austin
Game 3: 7:35 p.m. May 1, at Minot
* Game 4: 7:35 p.m., May 2, at Minot
* Game 5: 7:05 p.m., May 4, at Austin
* -- if necessary

Records: Minot (37-17-6 reg. season, 2nd in Central, 40-17-6 overall); Austin (38-11-11, Division champs, 41-11-11 overall)

Path to the Division Finals: (2) Minot swept (3) Bismarck, 3-0; (1) Austin swept (4) Aberdeen, 3-0.

Head coaches: Minot, Marty Murray (3rd season, 92-86-13 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 198-104-29 overall)

Tauros leading scorers (reg ssn/playoffs): F Blake Lizotte (14-38--52/0-3--3); F Christian Mohs (18-33--51/1-1--2); F Johnny Walker (20-22--42/1-1--2); D Jon Lizotte (10-24--34/0-1--1); F Nick Monfils (15-16--31/3-0--3).

Tauros goalies (reg ssn/playoffs): Atte Tolvanen (26-13-6, 1.94 GAA, .922 save pct. / 3-0, 1.33, .937)

Bruins leading scorers (reg ssn/playoffs): F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50/1-3--4); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43/0-3--3); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41/4-0--4); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39/1-2--3); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37/2-1--3); D Ian Scheid (12-23--35/2-0--2).

Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct. / 2-0, 1.50, .927); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923 / 1-0, 5.00, .800).

-----

TALE OF THE TAPE

Records (reg ssn/playoffs): Minot (37-17-6 / 3-0-0); Austin (38-11-11 / 3-0-0)
Advantage: Bruins

Head-to-head (points earned): Minot 4-0-0 (8); Austin 0-1-3 (3).
Advantage: Tauros

Offense: Minot 3.07 goals per game; Austin 3.50 goals per game
Advantage: Bruins

Defense: Minot 2.28 goals allowed per game; Austin 2.27 goals allowed per game
Advantage: Bruins

Power play (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 15.0 pct. (15); Austin 14.2 pct. (19).
Advantage: Tauros

Penalty kill (NAHL rank): Minot 87.02 pct. (4); Austin 90.18 pct. (1).
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Minot .909; Austin .907.
Advantage: Tauros

-----

SERIES NOTES

Former Mankato West defenseman Max Mettler is in his first season with Minot. He has 3-9--12 in 49 games this season. He has no points in the playoffs, but has a plus-4 plus/minus ratio. ... Tauros goalie Atte Tolvanen is a Northern Michigan commit and was named the Central Division MVP and Goalie of the Year earlier this week. ... The Tauros have two other players committed to D-1 schools. Leading scorer Blake Lizotte and top defenseman Jon Lizotte have committed to St. Cloud State. ... Amazingly, despite losing all but five players from last year's Robertson Cup finals team, the Bruins scored 21 more goals in the regular season this year (210) than last year (189) during the regular season. ... While Austin is a remarkable 24-3-3 since Jan. 1, Minot is 19-9-3 in that same span, including just 6-4-0 in its final 10 regular-season games. ... The Bruins have lost just once in regulation since Feb. 13. ... The Tauros are slightly better on the road (22-7-2) than at home (18-10-4) this season, including the playoffs. The Bruins are 22-4-6 at home and 19-7-5 on the road.

-----

THE CALL

Austin has this strange history of struggling in the first games of series on its home ice. The Bruins were outplayed in every way in a loss to Minot in Game 1 of an opening-round series last year. The Bruins had to rally to escape with a win in Game 1 against Aberdeen a few weeks ago. They cannot have that kind of a letdown tonight. I could sense it coming against Aberdeen, when players and coaches said they were too lax in practice leading up to the game. There's none of that this week. Despite the strange situation surrounding the team's coaches and their status for next year, when I was at practices this week, the players seemed more business-like than I've seen them all season. 
 
Minot is no pushover. In fact, this series, in my opinion, could very well be tougher than the series the winner will have in the Robertson Cup semifinals. And that's no knock on any other team around the league. Minot and Austin are playing extremely well right now. I expect a grind-it-out five-gamer, and I'll take the Bruins to close it out on home ice on May 4. I also have a feeling we'll see one game that's totally out of the norm for both teams, just because they always seem to have one of those.
 
THE CALL -- Austin 3, Minot 2 (Game 1: Austin 3, Minot 1. Game 2: Minot 4, Austin 2. Game 3: Austin 6, Minot 5. Game 4: Minot 2, Austin 1. Game 5: Austin 3, Minot 2).

April 03, 2015

Bear Tracks: The playoffs begin for the Austin Bruins

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins did their job last weekend, as they have throughout the second half of the season. They went to last-place Brookings and made the Blizzard look like a team that had nothing to play for, sweeping the two-game regular season-finale series by a combined score of 13-1. 

That gives the Bs a 38-11-11 record heading into the NAHL playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Central Division. They'll face fourth-seeded Aberdeen (27-31-2) in a best 3-of-5 first-round series, beginning with Games 1 and 2 at 7:05 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Riverside Arena.

Here is a story from Thursday's P-B about how this year's Bruins team is different from the division title teams of the past two years. 

Here is a story that is in today's P-B on the Bruins' two veteran defensemen and alternate captains, Jake Arroyo and Cory Dunn

Dunn and Arroyo are both guys who didn't arrive in Austin with a lot of buzz, but have developed into leaders on and off the ice. As Dunn said earlier this week, players who come to Austin, buy into what the coaches are asking them to do and continue to learn and improve will eventually earn their ice time.

That's what Dunn, in his second year with the team, has done. He didn't play regularly in the first half of last season. But he stuck with it, continued to learn the team's systems and learn what the coaching staff expected of him. By the time the postseason rolled around, it was hard to keep him off the ice. He had earned regular shifts on the penalty kill and the power play and it was evident his confidence had grown.

Arroyo is the only third-year Bruin on this team and the only player to be a part of all three of Austin's Central Division regular season championships. As I noted in today's story, he's a captain for a reason. This time of year, coaches and players talk a lot about sacrificing for the team. Arroyo does that on a nightly basis, whether it's dropping to block shots, throwing body checks or refusing to allow opponents to set up in front of Bs goalies Evan Smith and Jake Kielly.

Dunn and Arroyo are two of six players on the Bruins roster with NAHL playoff experience. The others are forward and team captain Brian Bachnak, and forwards Alex Pettersson, Luke Dietsch and Trevor Boyd. At practice this week, I got the sense that those guys are trying to pound it into the heads of the guys who are new to the NAHL playoffs: This time of year is different. You take a night off, your season might be over.

Aberdeen, which hasn't beaten Austin in regulation in eight tries this season, had to battle just to make the postseason. Expect the Wings to play with a sense of desperation from the opening drop of the puck tonight. The Bruins' 21-3-3 record since Jan. 1 means little at this point. It's a nice number to look at, but has no bearing on the games being played anymore. 

In other words, the Bruins' captains are imploring their teammates to not just match, but to exceed Aberdeen's sense of desperation.

The five guys who were on the Bs playoff roster last season (Boyd's playoff experience came two years ago when he played for Kalamazoo) remember what happened in their playoff opener. The Bs came in riding high as regular season division champs, then subsequently gave up four goals in the first 16:09 and lost to Minot 8-6 at Riverside. The Bs rebounded to win the next three games -- including a series-clinching 4-3, 3-OT victory in Game 4 at Minot that stands as the longest game in NAHL history at 116 minutes, 57 seconds. They went on to beat Bismarck in the Central Division playoff championship series and advanced all the way to the Robertson Cup finals, where they lost to Fairbanks in two games.

If you want to take a little trip down memory lane before the 2015 NAHL playoffs begin in less than 7 hours, here's a blog post about Lucas Kohls' goal that won that marathon game at Minot.

All right, I could go off on tangents all day, but let's get back to the present. Austin is playing as well as any team in the NAHL -- even the Janesville (Wis.) Jets, who set league records for regular-season victories (49) and points (100), and lost just nine times in regulation during their 60-game regular season. Both Austin and Janesville bring six-game winning streaks into the playoffs.

Some other links before we get to the Tale of the Tape:

* KAAL-TV: Bruins confident heading into postseason

* KAAL-TV: This week's Austin Bruins coach's show

* Aberdeen American News: Wings hope to win playoff series for first time

* * * * * 

NAHL CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINAL SERIES
AUSTIN BRUINS vs. ABERDEEN WINGS

Schedule
Game 1: 7:05 p.m. tonight, at Austin
Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Saturday, at Austin
Game 3: 7:15 p.m. April 10, at Aberdeen
* Game 4: 7:15 p.m., April 11, at Aberdeen
* Game 5: 7:05 p.m., April 17, at Austin
* -- if necessary
(all dates and times according to NAHL.com)

Regular-season records: Aberdeen 27-31-2 (4th in NAHL Central); Austin 38-11-11 (1st in NAHL Central)
Head coaches: Aberdeen, Francis Anzalone (1st season, 27-31-2 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 195-104-29 overall)
Wings leading scorers: F Kyle Haak (19-35--54); F Michael Soucier (18-17--35); F Bjorn Sigurdarson (14-17--31); D Tanner Okeson (7-18--25); F Tucker DeYoung (10-10--20).
Wings goalies: Andrew Shortridge (15-15-1, 2.57 GAA, .913 save pct.); Luke Kania (4-3-0, 2.28, .938).
Bruins leading scorers: F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct.); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923).

* * * * * 

TALE OF THE TAPE

Records (points): Aberdeen 27-31-2 (56 points, 4th in NAHL Central); Austin 38-11-11 (87 points, 1st in NAHL Central).
Advantage: Bruins

Head-to-head (points earned): Aberdeen 3-5-0 (6 pts.); Austin 5-0-3 (13 pts.). All three of Aberdeen's wins came in OT or shootout.
Advantage: Bruins

Offense: Aberdeen 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.5 goals per game
Advantage: Bruins

Defense: Aberdeen 2.75 goals allowed per game; Austin 2.27 goals allowed per game
Advantage: Bruins

Power play (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 15.3 pct. (13); Austin 14.2 pct. (19).
Advantage: Wings

Penalty kill (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 84.2 pct. (9); Austin 90.2 pct. (1).
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Aberdeen .909; Austin .907.
Advantage: Wings

* * * * *

SERIES NOTES

Wings leading scorer Kyle Haak is an Air Force commit. He'll play there with former Bruins F A.J. Reid and for head coach Frank Serratore, a former Austin Mavericks and Rochester Mustangs coach. ... The Bruins finished with the third-most points in the league (87), behind only Janesville (100) and Lone Star (88). Austin did it without a player in the top 25 in the NAHL in points (Bs leading scorer Trevor Boyd ranks 30th with 50 points) and without a top-10 goal-scorer (Boyd is 13th with 26 goals). ... Wings goalie Luke Kania has started seven of nine games since he was picked up by Aberdeen in late February. He made his first NAHL start against the Bruins on Feb. 28, a 3-1 loss in which he made 42 saves. Kania has stopped more than 35 shots in five of his seven starts.

THE CALL

The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. That's no bold statement. Coaches know it. Players know it. Fans certainly know. But to actually play postseason hockey is different than hearing about it. Austin has six guys with NAHL playoff experience, five who have played in a postseason game for the Bruins. That experience factor probably gets oversold, especially with this Bruins team, which played important games for essentially the entire second half of the regular season, as it tracked down and passed Minot to win the Central Division title. Still, it's difficult to end a team's season. Aberdeen hasn't been an easy team to beat all season. The Bruins are the better team, though. They proved that through the long haul. I think Aberdeen gets one win in the series, but not this weekend: Austin 5-2, Austin 4-3.

March 27, 2015

Bear Tracks: Bruins playing for bigger picture

Posted by: Feldman

As I wrote in today's paper, there are plenty of reasons for the Austin Bruins to not let down this weekend.

Sure, the Bs have their third consecutive NAHL Central Division title wrapped up. Sure, they'll be at home for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But think back to last season, when Austin reached the Robertson Cup semifinals for the first time ever. They had to play three tough games down in Topeka, Kan., in the national semifinals. They bused back home late on a Saturday night, then had to turn around three days later and spend a day traveling to Fairbanks for the Robertson Cup national championship series. 

There's a decent chance the Bruins could again advance to the national semifinals and they'd prefer to not have to get on a bus and travel to Kansas or Texas or Pennsylvania, or wherever the standings may dictate they go.

After the first two rounds of the NAHL playoffs, the home team for the national semifinals and finals are determined by which team had more points in the regular season standings.

The Janesville (Wis.) Jets have locked up home-ice advantage for as long as they continue to win games and playoff series.

Beyond the Jets, six teams are still in line to finish the regular season with the second-most points, behind Janesville:

1. Janesville 96 pts. (2 games remaining)
2. Lone Star Brahmas 84 pts. (2 games remaining)
3. Wichita Falls 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
4. Austin 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
5. Topeka 82 pts. (3 gms rem.)
6. Fairbanks 80 pts. (2 gms rem.)
7. Minnesota Wilderness 80 pts. (3 gms rem.)

Wichita Falls will finish with more regular season wins than Austin (39-36 right now), so WF would win the tie-breaker. 

Even if Austin doesn't leapfrog enough teams to finish with the second-most points, it would still be ideal to finish with the third-most, and avoid a matchup with Janesville in the Robertson Cup semifinals.

But, I'm getting way ahead of things here. The Bruins have two final regular-season games to play this weekend, against a Brookings (S.D.) team that has been eliminated from the playoff chase and has nothing to play for. Then the Bs would have to win a pair of playoff series against division rivals.

So ... this weekend's games. They're at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Austin and 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings. if nothing else, the Bs want to keep playing well and keep this momentum going that they've built since the start of 2015.

By the way, bring your checkbooks on Friday. The Bs will auction off their jerseys after the game.

We hear every day about this amazing hot streak the Minnesota Wild are on (and it is remarkable). But the Bs have been on a pretty nice run of their own. They're 19-3-3 since a New Year's Eve loss to Coulee Region, with all three regulation losses in this run coming against Brookings.

* * * * *

THIS WEEKEND'S SERIES

BRUINS vs. BROOKINGS BLIZZARD
(7:05 p.m. Friday at Riverside Arena, Austin; 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings)

Records: Brookings 19-30-9 (47 pts., 5th in NAHL Central); Austin 36-11-11 (83 pts., 1st in NAHL Central).
Head coaches: Brookings, Dan Daikawa (1st season, 19-30-9 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 191-105-30 overall)
Blizzard's top scorers: F Beau Michaud (17-32--49); D Zach Glienke (16-21--37); F Nate Colwell (11-22--33); F Joe Anderson (14-14--28); D Ben Campbell (7-17--24).
Blizzard goalies: Ryan Kubic (10-14-5, 2.63 GAA, .910 save pct.); Eric Hancock (8-12-4, 3.15, .891)
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (26-22--48); F Alex Pettersson (8-32--40); F Nico Sturm (11-28--39); F Tony Uglem (20-17--37); F Luke Dietsch (9-25--34).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (19-5-6, 2.19 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (11-1-2, 1.79, .922).

TALE OF THE TAPE

Records (points): Brookings 19-30-9 (47); Austin 36-11-11 (83)
Advantage: Bruins

Head-to-head (points earned): Brookings 3-5-2 (8); Austin 7-3-0 (10)
Advantage: Bruins

Offense: Brookings 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.40 goals per game
Advantage: Bruins

Defense: Brookings 3.30 goals per game allowed; Austin 2.33 goals allowed
Advantage: Bruins

Power play: Brookings 19.1 pct. (9); Austin 13.4 pct. (22)
Advantage: Blizzard

Penalty kill: Brookings 83.2 pct. (13); Austin 89.8 (1)
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Brookings .897; Austin .909
Advantage: Bruins

* * * * * 

SERIES NOTES

These teams have already met 10 times this year, with Austin going 5-3-0 vs. Brookings. ... Forwards Brian Bachnak and Nico Sturm have played very well against Brookings this season. They're tied with the most points by a Bruins player against Brookings, with nine apiece. ... Austin has made a habit of getting off to strong starts this season, outscoring its opponents 54-31 in the first period and 76-48 in the second. ... The Bruins have the No. 1-ranked penalty kill in the NAHL and have scored 10 short-handed goals this season. ... Bruins goalie Evan Smith has won four consecutive starts.

THE CALL

No need to overthink this. Brookings has nothing to play for. The Bruins have plenty. This isn't to say that Brookings will roll over and play dead. The Blizzard will put up a fight -- as always -- but the Bruins have larger goals in mind and they want to go into next weekend's playoff series against Aberdeen on a high note. Austin's top line (Trevor Boyd-Luke Dietsch-Tony Uglem) has been red-hot the past couple of weeks. Boyd alone has nine points in his past five games. Austin's defensive corps is deep and the Bs have learned to win games in a number of different styles. They'll close the regular season strong: Bruins 5-1, Bruins 4-3.