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12 posts categorized "Austin Bruins"

April 05, 2014

Junior Hockey | Wild playoff opener for Austin, Minot

Posted by: Feldman

First off, there's no need to panic if you an Austin Bruins fan. 

Yes, the Bs are down 1-0 in a best-of-5 NAHL Central Division semifinal playoff series against Minot after an 8-6 loss at Riverside Arena on Friday. 

Here's the game story that is in Saturday's Post-Bulletin.

Yes, it was less-than-pretty hockey.

But, remember, this Bruins team won 40 games in the regular season and a second consecutive division title. Teams don't do that if they're not mentally tough. This Bruins team is mentally tough, though we certainly saw that toughness tested tonight by a number of Tauros players who were doing their best to get under the Bruins' skin. 

This game was such an aberration for both teams for a number of reasons:

* Minot had scored more than four goals in a game just once during the 60-game regular season. It scored four in the first 16:07 on Friday.

* Austin won all four regular-season meetings this season at home against Minot. The Tauros hadn't won a game at Riverside since April 13, 2013, which was Game 2 of a Central Division semifinal series.

* Austin goalie Nick Lehr wasn't sharp. He let in at least two that he'd like to have back, I'm sure, but he also received very little help in front of him. On at least three Minot goals, the goal-scorer was allowed to walk into close range without being touched or covered. In other words, seven of Minot's eight goals (not counting the empty-netter at the end) were full-team breakdowns on Austin's part. 

* Lehr gave up four goals in the first period. He gave up four goals just four times in 49 regular-season appearances. He had never given up more than five in a game during his three seasons with the Bruins. Minot scored five in the first 26 minutes.

* Minot was 3-for-5 on the power play. That was completely out of character for a Bruins penalty kill that was outstanding in the regular season, ranking No. 2 in the league with a 90.5 percent kill rate. "Both of their first two power plays, we had an opportunity to cut cycles off and clear pucks and we didn't do it," Tok said. "They got second opportunities that ended up in the back of the net. So, losing battles because we were stick-checking. It gave them more opportunities to score and they capitalized."

That probably sounds like I'm hanging the loss on Lehr, which is not the case. That's not fair to him, considering it wasn't a good game in any facet for the Bruins. Even when they went up 3-1, coach Chris Tok wasn't happy with how they were playing. 

Tok said he felt like the Bruins were playing a preseason game.

To me, it felt like a good team that was coming off four emotionally and physically draining games against its biggest rival. Austin never got in a rhtyhm. It led 3-1, then gave up three goals in less than six minutes to fall behind 4-3 with 3:53 to go in the first. Austin tied the score three times, but never took the lead back.

It felt somewhat like the WCHA Final Five championship game a couple years ago, when a very good Minnesota team led North Dakota 3-0, then gave up six unanswered goals -- five in the third period -- to lose 6-3. That night, everything North Dakota threw at the net was going in. That's how things felt Friday night at Riverside. Everything Minot threw at the net was going in.

In 2012, Minnesota came back the following week and took it to North Dakota, 5-1, in the West Regional championship game to earn a berth in the Frozen Four. I have a feeling that's how this Austin team will respond, by going out and playing the way it has the past two weeks. We'll see, I guess, what this team is made of.

"We were playing pretty badly to be up 3-1," Tok said. "Then, what happened, we're playing bad, get up 3-1, then we were worse and we saw what happened after that."

Tok said the Bruins had a good week of practice, but he was a bit concerned that after taking three of four from Bismarck over the previous two weeks, to win the division by a point, Austin might not be sharp.

"My biggest fear that I had coming in was that it was going to be a letdown because of the drive that we had to win the title and how intense those four games were against Bismarck," Tok said. "I was worried that guys were battered and bruised, so guys would go out and protect themselves, and looking at all the stick checks, that's what we did. I don't if there's anybody in our room that needs an ice back after tonight's game. Last week, every guy on the team was using ice bags because of blocking shots and running into guys and sticking their nose in there and competing. Tonight I didn't see too many guys use ice bags and I don't think we needed many."

Yes, the Bruins lost, but they scored six goals and put 39 shots on net.

My guess is we see a lineup change or two for tonight's Game 2, but I'd bet my next paycheck that Lehr -- unless he slips in the parking lot and breaks his leg or something -- will start in goal. He's going to want to backstop this team to three wins in the next four games and he has certainly earned that right. 

Don't be shocked if No. 31 -- and the defensive corps in front of him -- has a big game in Game 2. 

AROUND THE NAHL

* In the other NAHL Central Divison semifinal series, Bismarck went on the road and beat Aberdeen 4-2, thanks to a hat trick from Evan Giesler and 29 saves from Aaron Nelson. The Bobcats' victory means both lower-seeded teams in the division went on the road and won their playoff openers. That's something that Tok has said all season -- anyone in this division can beat anyone on a given night. 

* No. 3-seeded Wenatchee (Wash.) beat the No. 2 seed Minnesota Wilderness 3-0 in Game 1 of a Midwest Division semifinal series. Wenatchee was the only other lower-seeded team in the NAHL to win on Friday. 

* Port Huron, the regular season North Division champ, already has a 2-0 lead in its best-of-5 division semifinal series against Johnstown. Port Huron has won a pair of one-goal games -- including a 4-3 victory in OT on Friday -- to take control of that series.

* No. 2 Michigan beat No. 3 Janesville 4-2 in Game 1 of the other North Division semifinal series.

* In the South Division semifinals, top-seeded Amarillo beat Wichita Falls 4-2 and No. 2 Topeka beat No. 3 Rio Grande Valley 3-1 in the first games of their best-of-5 series.

 

March 27, 2014

Austin Bruins getting healthy at right time

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins have two games remaining in their regular season and eight days until the North American Hockey League playoffs begin.

Now is a good time for a team that has battled injuries all year to get healthy.

It's been weeks -- months, maybe -- since the Bs have had their full 23-man roster available on game day. I'm guessing coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf would probably share their meals with Bruiser the bear for a month if they could make three healthy scratches per night this weekend at Bismarck, where Austin will close its regular season (7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

There have been times this season when the Bruins haven't been able to dress a full 20-player lineup. That shouldn't be the case this weekend, though the Bs will likely only have 21 of their 23 men avaialable. Tok said a couple of players sustained injuries last weekend against Bismarck during a split at Riverside Arena, and have tried to skate this week, but haven't been able to go full-speed.

Ideally, this would be the time of year where some Bruins players could sit out a game or two and be more rested for the start of the postseason. The Bruins wrapped up the regular season division title with a few weeks to go in the regular season last year and were able to do that with players such as A.J. Reid, Brandon Wahlin and Cody Dixon.

Austin doesn't have the luxury of resting guys this season, as it will likely battle with Aberdeen down to the final night for the division title. The Bruins have a one-point lead in the standings (77-76), so an Austin win on Friday, coupled with an Aberdeen loss at Wenatchee (Wash.) would give the Bruins the title.

Still, though, like I said before, the Bruins will likely only have 21 players available this weekend, and that's because they will get Sam Kauppila, Trey Dodd and Austin Nelson back from injuries.

Those three guys will be a big shot in the arm to Austin's offense.

Dodd has 17 points in 43 games, but has only played in four games since Valentine's Day.

Kauppila, who played for the NAHL U18 team at the Top Prospects Tournament, has 15 points in 41 games, but has been hasn't played since a 2-1 victory against Aberdeen on Feb. 21.

NELSON HAS PERSEVERED

As for Nelson, it's nice to see him back in the lineup and I know the Bruins' coaching staff is happy for him personally and happy for themselves that he's returning. Nelson has 15 points in 38 games this season, but he has sat out the last two weekends after he thought his Bruins career might be over.

Nelson, a third-year Bruin, missed 48 games last season after tearing the labrum in his right hip (Rochester hockey fans may remember this is the same injury that essentially ended Century grad Alex Kangas' college career with the Gophers).

During the Bruins' game at Minot on March 7, Nelson thought he had suffered the same injury to his other hip. He spent a long day-and-a-half thinking his time with the Bruins might be done. On Monday, March 9 -- his 21st birthday -- Nelson saw a doctor and, this time, received good news: He didn't suffer a torn labrum.

It was not only a relief for Nelson, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward from Hastings, but it was a relief for the Bruins coaching staff (and probably fans, too). Nelson will now get to end his junior hockey career on the ice, instead of in the stands.

"Austin has had some difficult times over the past couple of years, but he has really stuck with it," Tok said.

I was somewhat surprised to see that Nelson was back this season, not because I didn't think he could play at this level, but because it would be easy to understand why someone with his injury history would want to call it a career.

"I was a little surprised (at the start of the season) when he said he wanted to come back," Tok said. "I said 'great, we'd love to have you.' He's a great kid, on and off the ice."

Nelson has played in 103 games as a Bruin, with 20 goals and 21 assists.

FRONT-TO-BACK, BACK-TO-FRONT

With all of the injuries the Bruins have battled this season, the coaching staff has had to juggle forward lines and defensive pairs more than they would have liked. 

Sometimes those changes stick, sometimes they don't.

At least a couple of those changes have worked out quite well -- the move of Eli May from defense to forward, and the move of Lucas Kohls from forward to defense. May gives the Bruins another gritty forward who will get in the corners on the forecheck and win puck battles. He can also shift back to the point on the power play, as well as play on the penalty kill. Kohls has 33 points this season, but he gives Austin a big body on the blue line (he's 6-3, 195) who has a lot of offensive skill.

"Eli brings a lot to the table up front," Tok said. "He gets in there and creates turnovers. We had him in more of a defensive/checking-line role, but he created so many turnovers that we put him up with some other guys."

Tok said he anticipates May and Kohls staying in their current roles throughout the playoffs.

THIS WEEKEND

Austin (38-19-1, 77 pts.) at Bismarck (31-22-5, 67 pts.) -- Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m., VFW Sports Center, Bismarck

Bruins notes: Austin's power play has struggled all season. The Bruins are ranked No. 22 in the NAHL, converting at an 11.3 percent clip. ... The Bruins, however, have one of the top penalty-kills in the league. They are ranked No. 2 in the NAHL, killing 90.5 percent of their penalties. ... Austin has played 58 games this season and 17 have been decided by just one goal. The Bruins, though, have gone to OT just five times this year. They have two OT wins and are 2-1 in shootouts.

Bobcats notes: Bismarck is locked into the No. 3 spot in the Central Division playoffs and will face either Austin or Aberdeen in the opening round. ... The Bobcats are in the middle of the pack in the NAHL in both power-play (14.3 pct., No. 15 overall) and penalty kill (85.0 pct., No. 11 overall). ... Bismarck G Aaron Nelson, a MSU Mankato commit, has three shutouts this season, all against Austin (including a 1-0 blanking last Saturday in Austin). ... D Nate Repensky is the team's leading scorer with 49 points. He is committed to Yale.

Path to No. 1: There are many ways Austin could win its second consecutive division title. The simplest would be to beat Bismarck twice this weekend. NAHL teams get two points for a win, one for a tie. Four points are up for grabs this weekend for first-place Austin and second-place Aberdeen (which plays at Wenatchee at 9:05 p.m. CDT Friday and Saturday). The Bruins need to earn one more point than Aberdeen this weekend to win the division title outright.

January 10, 2014

Ice Time | Friday, Jan. 10

Posted by: Feldman So we're a week and a half into this new year; it's time to get the blog fired up again since I've been slacking all hockey season. I'll try to put something new up here each day, whether it's about the local high school teams, the Austin Bruins (I'll leave Ice Hawks notes to Phersy; he's all on top of that beat and I don't see them play often enough), former Rochester players who have moved on to juniors, college or pros, or maybe just some random thoughts on the Wild or NHL or college hockey. Whatever it may be, I'll try to have something fresh up here as often as possible. I have high school hockey on the brain right now, so let's get to it: * Rochester Century: The Panthers took one on the chin on Thursday night, a 12-0 loss to No. 6-ranked Lakeville North. But, at least from what I observed, it's not as bad as that score may indicate. For one thing, North piled on six goals in the third period, including four after Century made a goalie change. Not that North shouldn't have kept playing hard -- they are relentless on the forecheck and every bit deserving of their top-10 ranking in the state -- but when you get down 6-0 after two like Century did, then it climbs to 7 or 8 and keeps going, it's easy to sort of shut down. Century can take a couple of positive things out of the loss, though. First, if Century wants to make a run in the postseason, it's going to have to meet North again at some point. Aside from Lakeville South, Century is the only team in Section 1AA that will have faced North in the regular season. Century knows exactly what to expect and how hard it'll have to play if they meet North again. Second, from what I've seen of this Century team, it's not afraid to be physical and match opponents when it comes to hitting and battling in the corners and in front of the net. I also like to see that star defenseman Riese Zmolek has the green light to jump into the offensive play, and not only does he take advantage of those situations where he can join the rush, but his teammates are aware that he can and will do that and they cover for him defensively. Things don't get much easier for the Panthers, who are still unbeaten in Big Nine COnference play. They'll face Mankato West, the conference co-leader, on Saturday at the Rec Center. Speaking of West ... * Rochester Mayo: Mayo showed that it is among the best in the Big Nine on Thursday, playing West -- the No. 7-ranked team in Class A -- to a one-goal game at Graham Arena. West's Derek Frentz scored a short-handed goal with less than 30 seconds to go to win it 2-1. One of Mayo's concerns after the Kiwanis Festival had to be its play in its own end. And I'm not just talking about the defensemen, but all five skaters. It looks like they cleared some things up against West, and Mayo got another nice effort in goal from senior Eric Gibson. Gibson and Luke Utley have split time equally in goal and will continue to unless/until one of them grabs the job and runs with it. Mayo and Century meet next Thursday for the first time this season. Their matchups could be very important when it comes to home-ice advantage for the opening round of the section playoffs. North is clearly the No. 1 seed and Farmington has an argument to be No. 2, based on wins over all three Rochester teams already. If Lakeville South can beat Mayo when they meet on Jan. 28, the Cougars could have the inside track to the No. 2 or 3 seed. That would leave Century and Mayo to battle for No. 4 and a home game in the section quarterfinals, likely against each other. All of those things will shake out soon enough, but it's not too soon to start thinking about playoff matchups. * Rochester Lourdes: I can't remember a team I've covered being hit as hard by injuries as the Eagles have been this season. They lost D Griff Slightam before the season started. They've lost leaders Cody Cossette, Connor Fitzpatrick, Nick Roth and now Mason Carstens to injuries during the season. All that considered, the Eagles should still be competitive come playoff time. They're getting excellent goalie play from junior Jack Burkel and they've learned how to play in close, low-scoring games. That's likely how they'll have to win if they want to have some success in the postseason. They're also eight days away from playing on state-wide TV in Hockey Day Minnesota. It's a real bummer and shame that a few guys won't get to play in that game. ... While I'm thinking of HDM '14, I'll have a bunch of preview stories in next Friday's paper, the Jan. 17 edition. Regardless of how many players Lourdes is missing, I know the coaches and players will be sure to soak in the experience and just enjoy being a part of it. That's it for tonight. I'll try to put together more coherent thoughts from now on; tonight's post is just sort of a stream of consciousness that came out while watching a replay of the Wild game. I'm in the process of putting together this year's "The List." A list of all former Rochester-area players who are currently in juniors, college or pros. There are so many leagues and teams, I'm sure I'm bound to miss someone, but as soon as I get through all the leagues and team rosters, I'll post the list here. As always, let me know if I've omitted anyone.

September 17, 2013

Junior Hockey | Austin Bruins ready to open '13-'14 season

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 too high.
"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).

September 03, 2013

NAHL | Bruins report today

Posted by: Feldman

Who's ready for some hockey?

Four months ago Wednesday, the Austin Bruins had their season ended in the North American Hockey League Central Division finals by the Bismarck Bobcats.

Tonight, the Bruins begin their quest to get back to the postseason and to defend their regular season division championship. The Bruins report for fall camp at about 5 p.m. today. They play host to the new Richfield-based Minnesota Magicians on Saturday in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. at Riverside Arena.

The regular season gets underway Sept. 18 at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine with the four-day NAHL Showcase.

We'll dig more into the schedule and roster as the preseason progresses, but with the Bruins reporting today, let's take a quick glance at the team's strengths and where it has holes to fill:

GOALIE

Nick Lehr is back for his third season between the pipes. The 20-year-old from Roseville gives the Bruins' coaching staff some comfort, considering they have a lot of talent to replace on offense. Lehr has played 64 games in his Bruins career, posting a 2.49 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage. He was the team's No. 1 last season, going 29-10-6 (including postseason) with a 2.39 GAA and a .916 save pct. Justin Quale, who played for Tri-City in the USHL last season, will battle for playing time, too. Let's hope Quale gives Bs fans some highlights like this. Jason Pawloski, who showed flashes of becoming a star last year as a 16-year-old-turned-17 during the season, has moved on to Indiana of the USHL after recently committing to Minnesota State, Mankato.

DEFENSE

The big loss on the blue line is Cody Dixon, who had 16-28—44 last season and was among the NAHL's top scoring defensemen all season. Dixon has moved on to NCAA Division III UMass-Boston this season. Veterans Josh Bretner (11-19—30) and Jake Arroyo (0-5—5) return, though Bretner has been listed as a forward in some preseason notes. New blueliners include Cory Dunn, one of the Bruins' tenders, who had 10 points in 31 games for Team Illinois in the U18 High Performance Hockey League; Tyler Jones, from Chicago Young America; Eli May, who played for Tri-City in the USHL last season; and RPI commit Charlie Manley, a left shot D from near Buffalo, N.Y., who played four games for Waterloo of the USHL last season.

FORWARDS

This is where the Bruins will be searching for contributors. Jay Dickman (23-34—57) is back, the only one of the team's top six scorers to return this season. Gone are the franchise's all-time leader in points (Brandon Wahlin, 119 points) and goals scored (John Simonson, 52). Simonson is likely to play for Lincoln of the USHL this season; he was posted on their protected list that was released on Monday (thanks to Black And Blue, lincolnstarsblog.com for the update). AJ Reid (28-42—70) is off to play college hockey at Air Force, while CJ Smith (34-30—64) will play in the USHL for Muskegon. He is committed to UMass-Lowell, where he'll play with former Bruins d-man Christian Folin. In addition to Dickman, returning forwards include Kody Reuter, Rochester Century grad Drew Anderson, Austin Nelson, Scott Nelson (he'll start the season injured reserve) and Easton Viitala. Among the new forwards coming in is Dominik Florian, a tender who played high school hockey in Waukesha, Wis., last season. He's from the Czech Republic originally and produced 55 points in 27 games at Waukesha last season. Another young forward, who was also one of the Bruins' tenders this season, is Trey Dodd. He was one of a handful of 16-year-olds to play in the NA3HL last season, where he put up 34 points in 44 games for the St. Louis Jr. Blues. The team's top draft pick, Sam Kauppila from Chicago Mission U18, will be in camp. He played five games in the USHL last year.

We'll dig deeper into these players and more as the preseason moves along, but that's a little taste of where the Bruins are as camp opens today.

I'll be at Bruins practice tonight and have a story in Wednesday's Post-Bulletin. I'll link to it here when it hits PostBulletin.com.

Let me know, Bruins fans, what more would you like to see in our Bruins coverage this season? We'll get to as many games as we feasibly can, and I intend to write more profile-type stories on their players than I did a year ago. But, if you'd like to see more blogs, videos, different types of stories, let me know. Leave a comment here or drop me an email at jfeldman@postbulletin.com.

June 03, 2013

Notes: Austin Bruins announce tenders, NAHL Draft tomorrow, etc.

Posted by: Feldman

The North American Hockey League will hold its annual draft tomorrow, beginning at 1 p.m. Fans of the Austin Bruins will have to wait a bit for the team to make its first selection. Teams draft in reverse order of their records during the 2012-13 regular season, so the Bruins will pick 23rd in the 24-team draft.

The Amarillo Bulls will draft 24th. The newly formed Minnesota Magicians, based in Richfield, will draft first. They'll be followed by another new member of the NAHL, the Minnesota Wilderness (based in Cloquet).

The NAHL Draft can be followed live (and for free) online at fasthockey.com; on the league's Twitter feed @NAHLhockey or at www.nahldraft.com.

Players are not asked to register for the NAHL Draft. Eligible players are:

• Younger than 21 as of Dec. 31, 2013
• Not listed on an NAHL team roster OR are listed on an NAHL roster but played less than 10 total games in the league last season
• Any player that meets the above criteria and has not accepted a tender from an NAHL team for the 2013-14 season

Teams are permitted to draft as many players as it takes to push their roster to 30. That means the total number of tendered players + the total number of rostered players + total number of drafted players must be equal to or less than 30. Teams have to cut their rosters to 25 by Sept. 1.


WHAT WILL THE BRUINS DO?

So, what type of player will the Austin Bruins look for in Tuesday's draft? The obvious answer is goal scorers, but if it was that easy to just draft a goal-scorer, all 24 teams would do that, right?

I'm strictly guessing here, but I think the Bruins might try to hit on some forwards who they think can boost the offense early in the draft. A couple of reasons I think they'll go forward-heavy: 1. The Bruins scored more than three goals just once in eight playoff games; 2. Austin loses some of its top scorers to age (Reid, Wahlin, Fischer, Colvard) and could lose others to college or the USHL (CJ Smith? Jay Dickman?).

Then again, the Bruins tendered some really talented forwards and if those guys end up in Austin (and not the USHL), the team will find it easier to replace some of those lost scorers.

Speaking of tenders, I did a little digging and here is a look at the nine players Austin has tendered (which means the Bruins hold their NAHL rights for 2013-14). This list includes Michigan's Mr. Hockey, a First Team All-State forward from Wisconsin and Hill-Murray's all-time leading scorer:

F Brian Bachnak (6-1, 190, 9-30-94): From Southgate, Mich. … Named Michigan's Mr. Hockey 2013 on March 17. … Also named First Team All-State and named to Michigan's Dream Team. … Had 97 points (53 goals) as a senior in 2012-13 for Riverview High School. … Led Riverview its first-ever appearance in the Michigan Division 3 state semifinals. … Had six points in 15 games with Toledo of the NA3HL in 2011-12.

F Trey Dodd (5-11, 185, 7-18-96): Produced 34 points in 44 games for the St. Louis Jr. Blues of the NA3HL last season as one of the few 16-year-olds in the league. Had a plus-33 plus/minus rating. “Austin is a strong program, in fact at the top of their division this year, and their player turnover is pretty low. If you make the team, they make a commitment to you.” Dodd said when he tendered with the Bruins in early February. “I was looking for a place that I could go and continue to develop and grow, and I thought that this was the best fit for me.”

D Rhodes Dolan (6-5, 179, 5-2-96): The 17-year-old blue-liner from Waterloo, Iowa, played five games for the Bruins in 2012-13, scoring one goal. … Played two games for Waterloo of the USHL and 33 for the Omaha U16 AAA team in the North American Prospects Hockey League. Helped Omaha to a 21-1-0 regular season record. … Had three goals in five playoff games to lead Omaha to the NAPHL championship. … Selected by the Oshawa Generals in the 10th round (No. 194 overall) of the Ontario Hockey League draft in April.

D Cory Dunn (5-10, 160, 1-24-94): The 19-year-old from Trenton, Mich., had 10 points in 31 games for Team Illinois U18 in the High Performance Hockey League last season. … A right-handed shot.

F Dominik Florian (6-2, 185, 5-12-95): Good size for an 18-year-old. … From Vlasim, Czech Republic. … Played high school hockey in Waukesha, Wis., last season. Was the team's second-leading scorer with 55 points (29 goals) in 27 games. … Led Waukesha to the Section 7 championship, where it fell by a goal to Whitefish Bay. … Played for Notre Dame of the Saskatchewan Midget Hockey League for two seasons prior to going to Waukesha.

F Niko Hildenbrand (5-11, 190, 8-18-95): The play-making forward from Vacaville, Calif., played two games for Sioux City of the USHL last season. Sioux City still holds his USHL rights. … Put up 27 points (15 goals) and 35 penalty minutes in 38 games last season for the Chicago Fury U18 team.

F Casey Jerry (5-11, 160, 1-14-95): Named All-State First Team in Wisconsin and named to the St. Paul Pioneer Press All-Metro Team. … As a senior and captain of the River Falls (Wis.) Wildcats in 2012-13, had 67 points, including 36 goals, in just 25 games. … Leading scorer for Team Wisconsin in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League (14 points in 21 games). … Had 35 points in 19 games as a high school junior at River Falls.

D Tyler Jones (5-10, 170, 8-16-95): From Naperville, Ill., Jones, 17, had nine assists and 45 penalty minutes for the Chicago Young Americans U18 team in the High Performance Hockey League last season.

F Zach LaValle (5-11, 195, 10-20-94): Helped lead Hill-Murray to the past two Minnesota Class AA state high school tournaments. H-M finished as the state runner-up both years. … Named the Metro Player of the Year by the St. Paul Pioneer Press in March. … Had 61 points (26 goals) in 30 games as a senior. … Finished high school career with 84 goals and 113 assists for 197 points (H-M's all-time scoring leader). … Played in seven state high school tournaments in three different sports. Was an all-state quarterback for the Pioneers last fall. … USHL rights are owned by Waterloo.

January 21, 2013

Junior Hockey | Changes coming in the NAHL

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins are in the midst of the best season in the short history of the franchise. The Bruins have won 28 of their first 39 games, and have earned at least one point in 33 of those games.

Barring a lose-every-game-the-rest-of-the-way collapse, the Bruins will be in the North American Hockey League playoffs for a second consecutive season. Barring a less-monumental collapse, they'll be the Central Division champions and earn home ice throughout the first two rounds of the postseason.

Regardles of how this season ends, though, the Bruins' division and the entire NAHL will be shaken up next season -- possibly shaken up a bit, possibly shaken up a lot.

Two things we know for certain about the 2013-14 season (and these things could cause a domino effect that really shakes up the structure of the league's divisions):

1. A new team, the Minnesota Magicians (based in Richfield) will join the NAHL. (And, I'm told it's a near certainty they'll be in the same division as the Bruins). The Magicians' owners, Scott Krueger, Scott Meyer and Joe Pankratz, bought out the dormant New Mexico franchise and are relocating it to the Twin Cities area.

2. The Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild will leave the NAHL to compete in the British Columbia Hockey League, a league that some Division I colleges (many in the WCHA) recruit heavily.

So, how far will the snowball roll? We have to start out west to attempt to answer that question.

* With Wenatchee's departure, the NAHL West Division is down to three teams, Fresno (Calif.), Fairbanks (Alaska) and Kenai River (Kenai, Alaska). If another west coast city can be found to replace Wenatchee, the NAHL might prefer to look at that first. If not, I don't think the league would allow a three-team West Division to fly. That would mean either about 25 games against each of their division opponents for the teams in the West, or a lot of loooooong bus trips to play teams in the South, Central or North Divisions.

Also, reports I've read say Fresno has not renewed its NAHL agreement for the 2013-14 season. Fresno already has a Western States Hockey League team in town; perhaps it becomes a one hockey team town. It would make sense for the ownership group to sell their spot in the NAHL to a group located in closer proximity to one of the current divisions.

Of course, that would leave the two Alaska teams in limbo, which is a shame, as strong as Fairbanks has been in recent seasons.

If the West Division is left with just the Alaska teams, I can't imagine either one of them would stay put in their current cities, unless one or both owners are willing to shell out big bucks to continually travel to the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc. (by the way, a quick check of Mapquest indicates a bus trip from Fairbanks to Minot, N.D., is 2,552 miles one way)

Even then, you can't have a two-team division, so the Alaska teams would have to fall into the Central or the North (which would then likely be realigned) and you'd have to convince teams like Minot, Bismarck, Austin, Aberdeen, etc., that it's worth their time and money to make one or more trips to Alaska each season. That's going to be a hard sell.

So, potentially, I suppose we could see one, two or all four West Division franchises sold or relocated or just simply shut down.

* ... which brings us to the addition of the Minnesota Magicians. They'll play in the 1,800-seat Richfield Ice Arena and will provide a nice natural rival for the Austin Bruins, in addition to a short bus trip for the players.

Barring any other franchises being relocated to Minnesota or the region, the addition of the Magicians would make the Central a seven-team division. That wouldn't be entirely bad, either. It would mean teams have to battle even harder to be one of the four who make the division playoffs.

Who knows what the NAHL will ultimately look like in 2013-14; we could still have 24 teams, with more closer to our area, maybe we see a 20- or 22-team league without a West Division? Who knows? It will certainly make this offseason one to follow.

January 12, 2013

Junior Hockey | NAHL Central Division 6-Pack

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins continued their tear through the NAHL Central Division on Friday, winning at Brookings, 5-3. The Bruins needed veteran goalie Nick Lehr to be on top of his game, and he was, making 41 saves. A power-play goal in the final minute by Brookings made the final score a little closer. Austin didn't dominate, though it led 3-0 after one period. They needed all of Lehr's saves — he made 31 of his 41 stops over the final 40 minutes — to pick up another good win on the road.

After Austin built that 3-0 lead, Brookings came out and got a pair of quick goals to open the second period. Either the Bruins relaxed a bit, or Brookings really turned it on, or both. Drew Anderson's goal 5:45 into the period made it 4-2 Bruins, and Brookings didn't come closer than two goals again.

But, this is something Bruins coach Chris Tok has mentioned numerous times to me this season: Austin will be almost impossible to beat if it puts 60 minutes together. This is a deep, talented team, from its goalies on out. It's going to win this division and its depth (plus home-ice advantage) will be a huge plus in the postseason.

Anyhow, when a team is 26-5-5, I'm not going to spend anymore time nitpicking. That's a job for the coaches! Let's take a look around the Central Division:

ABERDEEN: The Wings are one of two teams in the Central to have already had a coaching change this season. Garrett Strot replaced Pete Sauer in mid-December after the Wings slipped into the cellar in the Central Division. Strot, a former head coach of the Coulee Region Chill, told the Aberdeen American News this week that he wants to turn the attitude around in the Wings' locker room. He was named one of Aberdeen's "13 to watch in '13," a list of newsmakers to keep an eye on in the Aberdeen area this year. … Strot has his work cut out; the Wings' biggest issue this year has been a lack of scoring. They've been outscored 132-79 and they have the worst power play (9.5%) and penalty kill (73.8%) in the entire NAHL.

AUSTIN: The Bruins are rolling. They have played some close games, but they've found ways to win those close ones all season. They're on a 9-0-2 stretch and haven't lost a game in regulation since Dec. 1, when they lost a 1-0 decision at Minot. A big reason for the continued improvement of the team is the play of its defensive corps. And second-year Bruin Jake Flynn is beginning to stand out among that group.

BISMARCK: With Austin's win over Brookings and Bismarck's win against Aberdeen on Friday, the Bobcats (20-13-2) moved into second place alone, 15 points behind Austin. Bismarck had an up-and-down first half, but it is 8-2-0 in its past 10 games, including a 4-2 win on the road against Aberdeen Friday. The Bobcats have received a boost from the return of big forward Ryan Callahan to the lineup.

BROOKINGS: Austin roughed up Blizzard goalie Drew Weigman for three first-period goals and five in the game on Friday. Weigman was coming off a strong week, when he won two times, stopped 46 of 48 shots, and was named the NAHL Central Divison Star of the Week. Weigman was the league's Goalie of the Month in September and has put up solid numbers (12-9-2, 2.67 GAA, .916 save pct., 3 shutouts). “Drew is back to his early season form and made some exceptional saves to keep us in the games,” Blizzard head coach Cory Laylin said.

COULEE REGION: The Chill picked up a nice win on Friday, falling behind 2-0 before rallying to beat Minot, 4-2, at Onalaska, Wis. Perhaps interim head coach A.J. Degenhardt, who's just 30 years old, can get things turned around for the Chill. Degenhardt recently replaced Jon Hamre as head coach of the Chill. Degenhardt, who played on the University of Wisconsin's 2006 national championship team, said one of the keys to success at the junior level is to learn how to deal with all of the different personalities in a locker room.

MINOT: The Minotauros had been red-hot for more than a month, climbing into second place at one point in the Central Division standings. Things have cooled in the Magic City in recent weeks, though. The Tauros are 3-3-1 over their last seven games and are averaging less than two goals per game over their last five. Minot's leading scorer, former Red Wing High School forward Jake OBorsky, has cooled off as of late. OBorsky has 27 points in 35 games, but has just one point (a goal) in the last six games.

November 09, 2012

Junior Hockey | Bruins This Week

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins extended their lead in the NAHL Central Division last weekend, sweeping a pair of one-goal games at last-place Coulee Region. The Bruins now lead Brookings by three points in the standings and have a chance to extend that lead this weekend.

Brookings and Austin play host to the same teams -- Minot plays at Austin at 7:05 p.m. tonight and at Brookings on Saturday. Bismarck plays at Brookings tonight and at Austin on Saturday night.

Let's take a look at this weekend's games and some other topics:

* Following this weekend's games, Austin plays a rare Monday night game at Coulee Region (Onalaska, Wis.) before a big early-season series against Brookings next Friday and Saturday at Riverside Arena.

* Bruins coach Chris Tok said Rochester John Marshall grad Zach Johnson has earned his way back into the lineup. Johnson, a hard-nosed center, has played in the Bruins' past three games and has two goals in that span.

"His skating has been there," Tok said. "We can notice when he skates hard and is decisive, he's hungry and gets on pucks. When he's not hungry, he's not moving. We've told the guys 'we know you're going to make some mistakes, but you just have to go out and play hard and if you're going to make mistakes, do it aggressively.'"

* Tok said the Bruins are quite banged up and "we'll be lucky if we can put 20 guys on the ice this weekend." It's been awhile since Austin's full roster has been 100 percent healthy, but it hasn't been in jeopardy of not putting a full lineup on the ice this season. Not having to get on a bus and travel could be a bit of a benefit for the Bruins this weekend. 

* Here's my story from Thursday's Austin P-B, looking at each Bruins position group at the quarter-way mark of the season. Tok also gives his thoughts on each position group. ... Some comments from Tok that didn't make this week's article:

* Tonight's game is the first time this year that Austin and Minot will meet. The Minotauros (4-11-1) had a tough start to the season, but have been playing better over the past couple weeks and are just one point out of fourth place. The Tauros took a two-week trip to the West Coast, where they split two-game series with both Wenatchee and Fresno. Minot is led in scoring by forward Travis Maxwell (5-8--13), who was traded to Minot about three weeks into the season. The Tauros also added goalie Tyler Parks after the NAHL Showcase in September. Parks is 3-5-0 in nine starts with an .893 save percentage.

"They added (Parks) after the Showcase and he's a big kid, so we have to get bodies in front of him so he has trouble seeing the puck. They're getting better and we better be ready to play when the puck drops (tonight)."

* Here's a weekend preview from the Minotauros website. 

* Bismarck visits Austin on Saturday for the fourth meeting of the season between the teams that finished first and second in the Central Division last year. Austin is 2-0-1 against the Bobcats, including a 4-2 victory at Riverside Arena on Oct. 13.

"They always play hard and they play well on the road," Tok said of the Bobcats.

* Bismarck recently made a trade with Wenatchee for defenseman Chris Driver. Driver had seven assists in 13 games and a plus-3 plus/minus rating with the Wild. 

 

October 19, 2012

Junior Hockey | The weekend ahead for the Austin Bruins

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins beat defending NAHL Central Division champion Bismarck last weekend at Riverside Arena thanks to three things: 1. great goaltending by Nick Lehr, 2. four special teams goals (two power play, two shorthanded), and 3. tremendous play by the team's penalty killers (holding Bismarck to a 1-for-11 night on the power play).

So, it's no surprise that specialty teams are the focus for both teams again this weekend as they play a two-game series at the VFW Sports Center in Bismarck. The teams meet at 7:15 p.m. tonight and 7:15 p.m. Saturday.

* The Bruins have the second-best power play in the entire NAHL. (PostBulletin.com)

* Bobcats head coach Layne Sedevie credited Lehr for being a thorn in Bismarck's side last weekend, in this story by Bobcats Director of Broadcasting Paul Teeple. (BismarckBobcats.com)

* Pre-game notes and statistical breakdowns for each team can be found here. (NAHL.com)

* Bismarck has one of the best goalies in the league in Bryan Nies. It added another this week when Bismarck native Aaron Nelson returned to the team after being let go by the Fargo Force of the USHL. Sedevie said Nelson's return gives the 'Cats two D-I caliber goalies. (BismarckTribune.com)

* The Bismarck Tribune's Lou Babiarz also has a brief look at this weekend's series.

AROUND THE CENTRAL DIVISION

* The Coulee Region Chill step out of division play this week to travel across their state (Wisconsin) and face the Janesville Jets, in a battle of the only two NAHL teams from the state. The teams will battle for the America's Dairyland Milk Can Trophy. (crchill.com)

* Minot, which is just 1-8-1 through 10 games, plays a pair of Central Division games this weekend. The Minotauros play host to Aberdeen tonight, then play at Brookings on Saturday. Brookings is off tonight; Aberdeen does not play on Saturday.