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).
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:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
* 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.
Posted by: Feldman
Now that the NAHL season is in full swing, I'm going to attempt to do a look back/look ahead type thing here on the blog each week. Some weeks I may not get to it, especially when we're in the middle of the high school playoff seasons, but I shall do my best to get something up here.
I'll take a look at how the Austin Bruins did over the past weekend and who they're facing the coming weekend. I'll also try to take a brief look around the Central Division.
I usually have plenty of leftover quotes from Bruins players and coach Chris Tok. I'll put some of them up here; some I'll save for Thursday's Austin Post-Bulletin print edition, when I'll try to run a story of some sort each week, looking ahead to the upcoming weekend's games.
Here we go...
Looking back at last weekend (Oct. 5-6)
• BRUINS CLIP WINGS: Austin swept a two-game series from Aberdeen at Riverside Arena on Friday (5-3) and Saturday (6-3). Perhaps the best news to come out of the weekend is that the Bruins picked up four more points in the standings despite playing average hockey at times.
In particular, Tok was not pleased with the number of turnovers the team committed in Saturday's win. The Bruins built a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, then relaxed too much. Aberdeen pulled within one goal twice — at 3-2 and 4-3 — but the Bruins put it away with goals by newcomer Rhodes Dolan and Scott Nelson (his second of the game).
"It gets frustrating when you see that many turnovers with a lead," Tok said. "We played OK for awhile, then we had a lot of turnovers at the blue line. Finally, the seventh turnover ended up in the back of our net. But that's a learning curve. When you don't play it right in this league, the other team will bring it right back at you. As long as we learn from it, it's good."
• FISCHER IS A STAR: Forward Chris Fischer, one of two third-year Bruins (along with forward Nolan Kirley) was named the NAHL Central Division Star of the Week after putting up four points (two goals, two assists) in the two-game sweep of the Wings. Bruins defenseman Cody Dixon was named honorable mention. Here's a link to the announcement on the NAHL website. The article that appeared in the Post-Bulletin can be found at this link.
Fischer is quickly becoming one of my favorite players to watch. As coach Tok said in the announcement from the NAHL, Fischer isn't a flashy player, but he does everything well. And he's on a line with two players — John Simonson and CJ Smith — who, like Fischer, make their linemates look good.
• EVERY DAY THEY'RE SHUFFLIN': We should expect a good amount of roster shuffling early in the season, when players are being let go by USHL teams (see: Dickman, Jay) and become available, and when players are resting injuries that they might play through in the regular-season stretch run or in the postseason.
We've already seen a good amount of shuffling in Austin — though not nearly as much as some teams around the league. The Bruins traded two forwards to Springfield for Dixon after the NAHL Showcase. They added Dickman at the same time, after he was released from Fargo of the USHL.
Last week, Austin added big defenseman Rhodes Dolan, a high schooler who was drafted by his hometown Waterloo Blackhawks of the USHL but was not on their active roster. Dolan, who was listed at 6-feet-4, 180 pounds during the high school season last year, made an immediate impact. He scored a third-period goal on Saturday — the day he arrived in Austin — to give the Bruins some breathing room, a 5-3 lead, against Aberdeen. Dolan was added because two regular defensemen, Josh Bretner and Kody Reuter, were both out of the lineup Saturday with injuries. Forward Austin Nelson also missed the games with an injury.
In order to put Dolan on the active roster, the Bruins removed Rochester John Marshall grad Zach Johnson from it. However, Tok said he anticipates Johnson being activated again when the injury situation at defense shakes itself out.
• AROUND THE CENTRAL: Bismarck and Minot both had the weekend off, while Aberdeen played a two-game set at Austin and Coulee Region played two at Brookings.
Coulee pulled out a wild 6-5 victory on Friday. The Chill outscored the Blizzard 3-1 in the third period, including a goal by Mac Jansen that capped his hat trick. Jansen was clearly their most dynamic forward when I watched them play at Austin two weeks ago and they may have to lean heavily on him to spark this team if it wants to remain in the hunt for a playoff spot deep into the season. Jansen added two assists for a big five-point night. The Chill also killed off a five-minute elbowing major to Andy Faust during their third-period comeback.
Saturday, Brookings had the big third period. The Blizzard scored three times, including an empty-net goal by Thomas Williams with 10 seconds to go to seal a 4-2 victory.
Looking ahead to this weekend
• HIT THE ROAD, HEAD HOME: Austin (5-2-0, 2nd place, 10 points) will play its first Central Division road game of the season at 7 p.m. Friday at division-leading Brookings (6-2-0, first place, 12 points), then the Bruins will hop on the bus and return home top play host to defending division champion Bismarck (3-5-0, third place, 6 points) at 7:05 p.m.
• A NEW ROAD TRIP: Friday's game at Brookings will mark the first-ever trip to Brookings for the Bruins. Brookings, which moved from Alexandria after last season, is led by forward Thomas Williams. The 20-year-old third-year Blizzard player has 93 career points in the NAHL, including a team-high 11 this season (6-5—11). Three goalies have split time for the Blizzard, though Drew Weigman has played the most. He is 3-1-0 in four starts with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage. Weigman, who turns 19 on Saturday, played the entire game and allowed all six goals in the Blizzard's loss to Coulee Region last Friday.
• PLAYOFF REMATCH: Saturday will mark the first time the Bruins and Bobcats have met since Bismarck knocked Austin out of the playoffs in the 2011-12 Central Division finals series. The Bobcats are anchored by goalie Bryan Nies. The Grand Forks, N.D., product has played in six of Bismarck's eight games, compiling a 3-3-0 record with a 2.17 GAA and a .919 save pct. Forward Adam Knochenmus, from Roseau, is their leading scorer, with six points. Knochenmus has one assist in each of the past three games, but he has gone six games without scoring a goal.
• BRUINS LEADERS: F Brandon Wahlin (2-7—9) has five points in the past three games ... F Jay Dickman (2-3—5) has five points in three games since joining the Bruins after the NAHL Showcase. … G Nick Lehr has played all but one game. He is 4-2-0 with a 2.80 GAA and an .890 save pct.
• SPECIAL SITUATION: Austin is second in the 24-team NAHL in power-play efficiency (23.3 pct.) but 20th in penalty kill (74.1 pct.) … Brookings is ninth on the PP (18.9 pct.) and eighth on the PK (89.2 pct.) … Bismarck is 23rd on the PP (6.7 pct.) and third on the PK (93.1 pct.).
Posted by: Feldman
The Austin Bruins begin their 2012-13 North American Hockey League season in just more than 24 hours. All 24 NAHL teams will converge on the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine for the annual junior hockey showcase.
The Bruins open their season at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday against Amarillo (Texas). Here's my Bruins/Showcase preview from today's Austin P-B print edition. By the way, Bruins coach Chris Tok had some nice things to say about former Rochester John Marshall forward Zach Johnson. Tok mentioned Johnson as one of three young forwards who have stuck out in camp so far. Tok said Johnson has done a nice job at center, opening up space for his linemates and setting them up for scoring chances.
Here's a link to the Showcase website, where you can find schedules and Internet broadcast information.
According to Let's Play Hockey, this year's Showcase will feature 129 players from Minnesota, including five from Rochester -- Johnson and Drew Anderson (Century) from the Austin Bruins; goalie Brock Kautz (Century) from the Janesville (Wis.) Jets; defenseman Rory Vesel (Lourdes) from the Bismarck Bobcats; and defenseman Alec Brandrup (Lourdes) from the Coulee Region Chill (Onalaska, Wis.). Another former standout Big Nine Conference/Section 1 forward, Eric Carlson of Albert Lea, will play for Janesville this season.
Janesville will face Austin on Saturday, the final day of the Showcase, at 7 p.m. Vesel and Brandrup both play for Central Division teams, so they'll play in and against Austin often during the regular season.
Here's a link to Let's Play Hockey's list of the 129 Minnesotans who will play in the Showcase.
The Showcase is well-attended by college coaches and scouts, and professional scouts. This year's Showcase will feature far more than just the 24 NAHL teams. There will be 36 teams from the North American Prospects Hockey League competing at the Tier I 18U major midget level and 16U midget minor levels. Eight teams from the Upper Midwest High School Elite League will play this weekend, too, as will all six 18U midget major teams from the Tier I High Performance Hockey League (Compuware, CYA, Honeybaked, Little Caesars, Mission and Team Illinois).