Posted by: Feldman
As I write this, we're approximately 41 hours from the opening puck-drop of the 2013-14 Austin Bruins season. The Bruins face Port Huron at 5 p.m. Wednesday on the opening day of the four-day North American Hockey League Showcase.
Austin's four opponents in this week's Showcase are Port Huron (32-24-4 in 2012-13), Lone Star (formerly the Texas Tornadoes, 36-22-2 last season), Michigan (19-32-9) and Wichita Falls (26-30-4). Port Huron and Lone Star made the playoffs a year ago, Michigan and Wichita Falls did not.
But it's hard to put a lot of weight behind what those teams did a year ago. Rosters can change dramatically from year to year in junior hockey, and the Bruins are a perfect example.
Bs fans, you might want to print out a roster now and memorize it before the team's home opener on Oct. 5. For example, young 17-year-old forward Sam Kauppila could become a big-time scorer and star for the Bruins, but it'll take some time to get used to someone other than CJ Smith wearing No. 16. By all accounts 17-year-old Frenchman Guillaume Leclerc should provide a spark for the Bs offense (he's already committed to D-I RPI), but it will be odd not seeing "WAHLIN" above the No. 20 on the jersey.
In other words, the Bruins will have a lot of new faces on the ice this season, but we knew a year ago that this was coming. And, despite the roster turnover — just nine of the 23 players on the roster are back from last season — there's no reason the Bruins can't defend their Central Division championship.
They'll likely have to do it in a different fashion, though. They'll have to rely on two veterans between the pipes -- third-year Bruin Nick Lehr and 18-year-old Minnetonka native Justin Quale, who played with Tri-City of the USHL last season.
Back on defense are Jake Arroyo, Josh Bretner and Kody Reuter. Returning forwards include Jay Dickman, Rochester native Drew Anderson, Easton Viitala, Austin Nelson and Scott Nelson.
Here's a link to the preview story that is in today's (Tuesday's) Post-Bulletin. I give a quick breakdown of the team by position, along with some brief comments from head coach Chris Tok, who starts his fourth season as the only coach in Bruins' history.
Tok had lots of things to say about his newcomers, young players and veterans that didn't get into the print edition. Here are some of those comments:
• His thoughts on the defensive corps as a whole: "They're definitely going to be counted on early; they're the more veteran group. They have to lead the way. We have four guys back there with some great experience. They have to lead the young guys and get them to come along. Four guys isn't enough to have success so we have to make sure we teach quickly and have guys on the same page. We'll rely a lot on our defense this year."
• Six of the eight d-men on the roster are left-handed shots. Does that matter?: "No. We're just looking for the best kids, best players with the best character that we can work with, guys who can start at one point and work themselves to another point and be a lot better at the end of the year. Sometimes it just works out where you have more left-handed shots, sometimes more right-handed shots. But it doesn't matter. You have to be able to play the game. We're not in a position where we can be extremely picky on what hand a guy is."
• With so much scoring to replace, do you expect that load to be distributed or placed on a just a few guys?: "We're not gonna put any added pressure on anybody to produce more goals or do anything that they're not capable of. As long as everybody is doing things right … when guys do things the right way, hopefully we can get all four of our lines to mix, to play good defense and be able to chip in offensively. We're not going to single any player out and say 'you have to be able to score more.' That's not fair to that player and it's not the right way to do things. We're going to make sure everybody is creating scoring opportunities and guys will find a way to put pucks in the back of the net."
• What do you expect out of leading returning scorer Jay Dickman?: "We expect him to play the same game he played last year and hopefully he's gotten better. He's worked hard this summer to put himself in a position to have some D-I schools look at him. He put up a ton of points last season. There's no reason why he won't be able to do that again."
• What are some of the things he needed to work on during the offseason?: "No. 1 is skating; all the D-I guys will get around the rink well. He's a big kid. He's 6-6 and, yeah he's a '93, but his body still has a lot of maturing to do. His body is ... he's a big guy, but his body's not the same. He weighs 220 pounds but he's not a strong, lean 220 that he's built up. He's 220 pounds because he's 6-6. So the strength, the agility, the coordination and all that stuff has to catch up to his height. That's what he worked on a lot, building some strength so that he can handle his body and he can do a few different things that make him a better player."
• What do you hope to see out of your young forwards?: "We hope to see they have the ability to make themselves better, day in
and day out. They'll have bumps and bruises along the way. They're going
to play some good hockey, they're going to play some bad hockey. We
have to make sure that their work ethic stays steady, when things are
going bad they don't get too low and when things go well they don't get
"Consistency is a big thing out of those young guys. They have a good skill level, they can get up and down the ice. As long as they play at a steady pace and do things the right way, good things will happen for them."
• Will your top two goalies push each other and split time?: "They both have great credentials. They definitely should be pushing each other to get the No. 1 job and maybe get more starts. We'll probably keep (their playing time) fairly close at the beginning of the season unless one emerges. They're both quality quality goaltenders who have the ability to play some great hockey. How they play in games will be a big determining (factor) in who gets the nod."
Now all that's left to do is to drop the puck. I won't be in Blaine with the team during the Showcase, but I'll try to follow the games as closely as possible and provide updates on Twitter (@PBFeldy). You can also follow the Bruins on Facebook or on their official Twitter account (@theaustinbruins).