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10 posts categorized "Bismarck Bobcats"

April 18, 2014

Junior Hockey | Scouting the NAHL Central Division Finals

Posted by: Feldman

We're just more than 3 hours from faceoff of Game 1 of the North American Hockey League Central Division Finals, the No. 1-seeded Austin Bruins (43-20-1) vs. the No. 3 Bismarck Bobcats (34-24-5).

First, some links to read if you want to kill the time between now and puck drop:

* My story from Thursday's P-B on Bruins D/F Lucas Kohls, the team's "Mr. Versatility"

* My story from Thursday's P-B on the Bruins needing to bounce back quickly, physically and mentally, from a tough series against Minot.

* A blog post from late last night on how the Bruins won the longest game in NAHL history last weekend.

* Feature story on Bismarck's Evan Giesler, who scored six goals in the Bobcats' three-game sweep of Aberdeen in the division semifinals.

* Bismarck Tribune story on the Bruins-Bobcats rivalry, with some good quotes from Bruins coach Chris Tok.

* Bismarck Tribune feature on Bobcats defenseman Ryan Callahan, who is playing well after recovering from a broken back.

* If you're interested in following the series from a Bobcats' perspective, I strongly recommend following Bismarck Tribune sports editor Lou Babiarz on Twitter (@LouBabiarz). I've known Lou for about 12 years; he blankets the Bobcats and has some good insight on their play as a team and their individuals.

* Short preview capsules of each of the four NAHL division finals series, all beginning tonight.

How often do we look at a series and think a top seed is an underdog? I won't go as far as to call the Bruins an underdog in this series, but it's about as close as you'll come. 

These teams split 10 games during the regular season, with Austin winning 3 out of 4 over the final two weekends against Bismarck to clinch the regular season division title.

Bismarck is the only team that has come to Riverside Arena this season and pushed the Bruins around. The Bruins are an incredible 26-4-0 at home this season (actually 24-4-0 at Riverside, as two of the games listed as "home" occurred at the season-opening NAHL Showcase in Blaine). Still, 24-4-0 on home ice is darn impressive.

Consider this, though: Bismarck handed Austin three of those four losses at Riverside. The Bobcats were the only team to sweep a weekend series in Austin, winning 4-2 on Jan. 31 and 7-0 on Feb. 1. 

That's not to say Austin won't win this weekend, but it is to say that Bismarck has confidence and knows it can win here.

All that said, let's break down the Central Division Finals.

THE SERIES

Game 1: Tonight, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
Game 2: Saturday, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
Game 3: Friday, April 25, 8 p.m., at Bismarck
x-Game 4: Saturday, April 26, 8 p.m., at Bismarck
x-Game 5: Monday, April 28, 7:05 p.m., at Austin
x -- if necessary

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Records: Austin 43-20-1, Bismarck 34-24-5
Season series
: Bismarck, 5-4-1
Goals for: Bruins 203, Bobcats 190
Goals against: Bruins 158, Bobcats 160
Power-play goals: Bruins 34, Bobcats 46
Shorthanded goals: Bruins 12, Bobcats 9
Penalty minutes: Bruins 1227, Bobcats 1199

SCOUTING THE BOBCATS

Key players

* G Aaron Nelson: The veteran goalie is among the best in the NAHL and has been outstanding against Austin throughout his career. The MSU Mankato recruit is 32-18-3 this season, including a 5-3-0 mark against the Bruins, with a 1.50 goals-against average in those games. He has played in an incredible 20 career playoff games, backstopping the 'Cats to the Robertson Cup each of the past two seasons.

* F Stanislav Dzakhov: The speedy forward had just two points (both assists) in the Bobcats' division semifinal series victory against Aberdeen, but he was the team's second-leading scorer in the regular season (25-23--48) and the only Bobcat to top 20 goals. The Moscow, Russia, native is committed to Niagara University. He played in only six of the 10 games against Austin this season, putting up five points (three goals).

* F Evan Giesler: The 'Cats third-leading scorer during the regular season (16-26--42) picked up the slack against Aberdeen where some of the team's other top players struggled to score. Giesler scored six goals and added one assist, for seven points in three games against the Wings. He is the only Bobcat to play in all 63 of their games this season. He had a 3-3--6 line in 10 games vs. Austin this season. His line, with fellow 15-goal scorers Huba Sekesi and Cullen Willox, will be one to watch in the series. 

Watch out for...

* F Zach Yon: The 2014 Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist and University of North Dakota commit joined the Bobcats after his high school season in Roseau ended. He had three assists in six regular-season games, then scored three goals in three games during the division semifinal series against Aberdeen. He had 59 points in 22 games at Roseau. He is tendered with Bismarck for next season, but it would be surprising if he's not playing in the USHL.

* F Filip Starzynski: The Warsaw, Poland, native is an Alabama-Huntsville commit. He had 37 points in just 43 regular season games this year and had one goal in the Bobcats' first-round playoff series victory. At 5-10, 185, he can be a dynamic playmaker and goal-scorer. With the depth the 'Cats have, Starzynski might be a greater threat as a setup man in this series, and someone the Bruins will have to keep an eye on at all times when Bismarck is on a power play. Austin has held him in check well this season, though, allowing him just one assist in eight games.

Injury factor

This one is huge for both teams. Bismarck's leading scorer in the regular season, Yale-bound defenseman Nate Repensky (12-38--50), suffered a season-ending leg injury during the Bobcats game against the Bruins in the regular season finale. Repensky was attempting to pull a Bruins player away from a scrum when he fell backward, pulling the Bruin down on top of him. At the same time, he felt his right leg snap. The good news is that the recovery time for Repensky isn't like an ACL tear; he expects to be able to train and skate this summer, in as little as 7-8 weeks, and he's still on track to start his college career at Yale in the fall. Repensky's loss thins out the Bobcats defensive corps, though. They can't afford another injury on the blue line, with just six healthy d-men on the roster.

Intangibles

NAHL rosters, by their nature, turn over quite a bit from year to year, but the Bobcats are always built for the postseason. Judging by their relatively simple sweep of Aberdeen in the opening round -- the Cats outscored the Wings 14-3 over three games -- Bismarck is again primed for a postseason run. In other words, Bismarck has the experience of being in the division finals and knowing how to win at this time of year. And it just seems like, no matter the situation, when Bismarck sets foot in Riverside Arena, everyone -- players, coaches, the 1,200-plus in the bleachers -- tighten up a bit and the tension level rises. You can bet coach Layne Sedevie will remind his players of that before they step on the ice tonight.

SCOUTING THE BRUINS

Key players

* F Jay Dickman: The 6-6, 225-pound Bemidji State recruit finished the season as the second-leading scorer in the entire NAHL (28-36--64). He is a load, as his size indicates, and is as tough as anyone in the league to bump off the puck. He has improved his speed, footwork, hands and strength since last season and has become a complete player. He skates well for a big man, too, and limiting his chances will be a tough task for the 'Cats defensive corps, which is minus its best player, Repensky.

* G Nick Lehr: The University of Minnesota recruit has improved so much skill-wise during his three years as a Bruin. He also has grown mentally. His mental toughness is outstanding, as shown in the division semifinals. He had his worst night as a Bruin in the series opener, allowing seven goals in an 8-6 loss to Minot. He wasn't sharp and he knew it. BUT, Lehr shook it off and was tremendous over the final three games, allowing a total of five goals over the final 11-plus periods. He led the NAHL in wins (35) this season, was fifth in goals-against average (1.84) and save percentage (.932).

* D Josh Bretner: The veteran d-man earned the "C" on his sweater this season. He's the team's third-leading scorer in the regular season (7-33--40) and had two assists and was a plus-4 in the opening-round series win against Minot. He plays in every situation and runs the point effectively on the power play. Bretner has a good shot, too, and he's not afraid to let it fly. He is one of two Bruins, along with F/D Lucas Kohls, to play in all 64 games this year.

* F Guillaume Leclerc: The diminutive speedster from Franois, France, is a game-changer when he has time and space. He was second on the team in scoring (21-25--46) during the regular season, despite missing six games. He had a goal and an assist in the playoff opening series against Minot. Leclerc, a UMass-Lowell recruit, is just 18. He had five power-play goals and eight game-winning goals this year. He has a goal and four assists in eight games against Bismarck this year.

Watch out for...

* F Drew Anderson: The Rochester Century grad has made a living over the past two years by scoring the gritty goals in front of the net. He has 10 goals and 21 assists in 62 games this season. This series could come down to the goalies. Both Austin's Lehr and Bismarck's Nelson are stingy. They'll make the first save a vast majority of the time, so it's likely to come down to who can get the greasy goals. Anderson has excelled at that. He nearly had the game-winner midway through the 3rd OT against Minot last week, only to be robbed by Tauros goalie Brandon Wildung (sorry, Drew, I said I wouldn't mention it again). If he gets a chance against the 'Cats, Anderson won't miss.

* F Luke Dietsch: Perhaps no player on either team is as hot as Dietsch right now, with the possible exception of Bismarck's Evan Giesler. Dietsch was one of Austin's most consistent forwards in the regular season, putting up a 16-19--35 line in 58 games. In the four-game series against Minot in the division semifinals, Dietsch had four goals and seven points. If he can replicate that effort against Bismarck, that's a huge plus for the Bruins.

Injury factor

For the Bruins, forward Sam Kauppila has been among their biggest injury concerns in recent weeks. An upper-body injury has sidelined the 6-1, 170-pounder, who doesn't turn 18 for another month. He has 16 points in 42 games this season, but has played just once since Feb. 21. There was thought that he might return last weekend at Minot, but he was kept out of the lineup with his upper-body injury. He has practiced the past couple weeks, though. As of Tuesday, he was still in an orange non-contact practice jersey. His return to the lineup would boost a forward corps that has other key players such as Niko Hildenbrand, Scott Nelson and Joe Schuldt battling injuries, too.

Intangibles

The Bruins know how to win. They're back-to-back regular season division champions. And even though they've had fits with Bismarck in the playoffs the past two years, this is a different group. Most of these guys weren't around for last year's playoff series. And, as head coach Chris Tok said, this team has been through a four-game playoff series against Bismarck. They had the division title and home-ice advantage hanging in the balance during the final two weeks of the regular season, when Austin won three of four games against the Bobcats -- including a two-game sweep on the last weekend of the season at Bismarck -- to clinch the regular season title. If Austin can play the same game it played that weekend, it will make its first Robertson Cup appearance.

THE PICK

Bismarck enters this series with a lot of confidence after a dominant three-game sweep of Aberdeen, while Austin really only had a couple of practices to recover from that marathon Game 4 at Minot. Still, it's the playoffs and Bismarck is in the opposing locker room at Riverside. If that's not enough to get the Bruins' adrenaline flowing, nothing will be. Tok and the Bruins assistants won't have to say much in their pre-game speech. This won't be easy, but I think the Bruins are finally ready to take the next step. They'll need lots of ice packs and rest in between games, but it's time they elevate their game against Bismarck during the playoffs. Austin worked all season for home-ice advantage throughout the first two rounds of the postseason, and the Bruins will need it.

The pick: Austin in 5 games.

Junior Hockey | How the Austin Bruins ended the longest game in NAHL history

Posted by: Feldman

This is a few days late, but let's put a wrap on the longest game in North American Hockey League history. The Bruins won it last Saturday, when Lucas Kohls scored with 3:03 to go in the third OT to beat Minot 4-3 at Minot and win a NAHL Central Division semifinal series 3-1.

I'll have a post later today breaking down the Central Division finals series against Bismarck, which begins at 7:05 tonight at Riverside Arena, but let's wrap up the Bruins-Minotauros semifinals series first. 

Here is a link to a 38-second video of the winning goal posted on YouTube by Bruins radio play-by-play man John Peterson. The video is a little grainy, but you can see the play develop. (I'm also going to attempt to imbed the video at the bottom of this post, but we've run into issues trying to do that in the past, so I apologize if it doesn't work).

I'm a little late in getting this posted, but I talked to a few Bruins players and coaches earlier this week about the 3-OT game and Kohls' winning goal, so I wanted to make sure I posted the breakdown of the goal, as well as their comments.

Here's the anatomy of the goal that ended the longest game in NAHL history at 116 minutes, 57 seconds:

1. As the video starts, at about the 2-2 1/2 second mark, you see the puck hit Minot's Jadin Martin and deflect all the way across the ice to Kohls, a defenseman, who beats a Minot forechecker to it at the Bruins' blue line. Kohls makes an instant decision to push the puck up to Niko Hildenbrand rather than skate it across the center line and dump it in.

2. Hildenbrand was about to go off for a shift change, but stayed on when he saw the puck slide to Kohls. Hildenbrand carried it into the Minot zone, with Kohls and Easton Viitala crossing the blue line shortly after him. 

3. Hildenbrand, knowing a Minot defender is directly in his shooting lane, decides to let a slap shot fly from just inside the Tauros blue line. As he does, Kohls and Viitala both go to the net and nearly collide with one another.

4. Hildenbrand's shot hits the Minot defender and trickles through his skates (if it's a clean shot-block, the puck probably goes harmlessly into the corner or over to the halfwall and the game goes on). Viitala alertly picks it up and keeps going to the net. At this point, we see it's essentially a 3-on-2 for Austin, with one Minot defender watching Hildenbrand and attempting to block his shot and one Minot defender keeping an eye on both Kohls and Viitala. 

5. Viitala does what the Bruins coaches have been instructing their players to do since the first OT -- put shots on net. Don't just throw a puck toward the goal, put a good shot on net. As he does this, the Minot defender who blocked Hildenbrand's shot is too late turning around and can't get a body or stick on Viitala. The other Tauros defender also reacts too late to break up Viitala's shot attempt. From Minot's perspective, it's not the end of the world because goalie Brandon Wildung is square to Viitala and in perfect position to make the first save. 

6. The problem for Minot is that the defenseman who reacted too late to break up Viitala's shot -- the one who initially was watching both Viitala and Kohls -- drops to his knees and attempts to stick-check Viitala's shot and take away his passing lane. That leaves Kohls unattended as Minot's third man back is well behind the play. 

7. Kohls knows he has to act fast as that third Tauros defender is coming. He sees the puck sitting right in front of Wildung's pad and he pulls it away quickly and calmly, then flips it over Wildung's outstretched leg as that third Minot defender finally realizes what's happening and dives to break up Kohls' shot. It doesn't work, though, and Kohls scores to send the Bruins to the division finals for a third straight year. Had Viitala held the puck a couple seconds longer and attempted to make the cross-crease pass to Kohls, a Minot defender likely would've been able to break up the play. 

8. The Bruins players are so exhausted, they can't even sprint over to hogpile on Kohls. We can see Josh Bretner and Hildenbrand, two of the other players on the ice when the goal was scored, glide over to the far wall to embrace Kohls and Viitala. In fact, it looks like backup goalie Dillon Kelley is the only one to leave his feet and jump into the pile. 

9. Losing a game like that is a lonely feeling; none of the Tauros players skated over to console Wildung after the goal. I'm not drawing any sort of conclusions from that; I don't know the inner workings of Minot's team well enough. I just know that it seems like every time Nick Lehr has given up a big goal this year, there are two or three Bruins players tapping him on the pads or putting an arm around him.

10. Bruins coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf breathe a sigh of relief that 1) they don't have a to play a Game 5 on Monday in Austin and 2) they get to change clothes and make the long bus ride back to Austin with a positive feeling (and they finally get to get some rest).

NOTES ON THE GOAL AND THE MARATHON GAME

* Hildenbrand was very close to not even being in the game in the third OT, much less in position to set up the winning goal. He was injured in the first period (upper body; not a concussion) and played a few shifts in the second period. He was obviously hurting and Tok told him to take his pads off and ice the injury.

"I was in the locker room icing and watching with the guys who were scratched that night," Hildenbrand said. "I iced through the third period, first overtime and second overtime and then I said 'coach it's feeling better, let me get out there,' and he said 'it's your call' so I went back and, I've never got dressed that fast before."

Hildenbrand made it to the bench about 3-4 minutes into the third OT, as the coaches were actually feeding players bananas and oranges ON THE BENCH. 

"I'm not saying that did it for us, but it sure helped," Tok said. "Niko actually wanted to change (on the winning goal). He shot the puck and stood there after he shot it, just to watch. You can see on video, he kinda took a step toward the bench like he was going to finish his change, then he watched and it went in the back of the net and he looked like 'OK, I don't need to change.'"

* Kohls made a heads-up play to jump into the attack, though he said he just did it instinctively (the benefit of being a defenseman who converted from forward) and didn't realize the Minot defenders weren't hustling back into their zone. 

"You want your defensemen doing that and we did quite a few drills throughout the week leading up to it, where the defensemen were jumping into the play," Tok said.

* Hildenbrand on playing in the longest game in the NAHL: "Never been in anything like that. We were just thinking, move the puck, get it on net, everybody's tired, the goalie's tired, so shoot the puck as much as possible and hopefully you get something to go in."

* Kohls on the feeling as the game went on and on: "We knew it was going to be a really gritty goal (to win it). We just thought 'keep getting pucks on net.' The goalies were playing great, glove saves everywhere. It wasn't going to be pretty. We knew it'd take a second or third chance. It wasn't going to be pretty."

* Tok, on what coaches were doing as the game went on: "The guys were playing as hard as they could, you could tell. Some fatigue was setting in, but it was basically be a cheerleader as much as we could and be a nutritionist."

Again, check back later today for a post on the Central Division Finals, which begin with Games 1 and 2 tonight and Saturday at 7:05 in Riverside Arena in Austin. 

And here's an attempt to put the video in here; if this doesn't work, click on the link at the top of this post to see Kohls' game-winning goal from last Saturday.

 

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.

 

April 03, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins primed for postseason push; Folin receives praise

Posted by: Feldman

Here's a lesson for young hockey players — young athletes in any sport — everywhere: Listen to your coaches. They usually know what they're talking about.

Back in September, Austin Bruins head coach Chris Tok and assistant Jamie Huffman insisted to me that the 2013-14 Bruins would be a good team, even though they turned over more than half of their roster from last season's division title team. They weren't going to blow anyone out, they weren't going to be able to flip a switch and blow away an opponent like last year's team could. But, the coaches said, there is talent here. It won't be easy, but they'll be a good team by the end of the season.

I wasn't sure. Not because I didn't believe the Bruins could do it; I figured, with the teams that Bismarck and Aberdeen had constructed, and the fact that all five teams in the Central seem to play one another tough, it would be difficult for Austin to earn enough points in the first half of the season (while players were still learning roles and what is expected of them) to be in position for another division title in March.

Guess what? It's the end of the regular season. It wasn't easy. The Bruins have talent. They've become a very good team. And they're the NAHL Central Division champions for a second consecutive season.

Austin is also playing as well as it has all season. I talked to two coaches and four players earlier this week before a practice and you could sense something different in them after sweeping two games at Bismarck last weekend.

Bismarck has been a pain in the backside for this Bruins team over the past couple years. It hasn't seemed to matter how well either team is playing or where they're playing, the Bobcats flat-out give the Bruins fits.

But something clicked last weekend — the Bruins coaches urged the players to go out and take the division title, don't count on Aberdeen losing at Wenatchee and handing the Bs the title (Aberdeen swept at Wenatchee, so, yes, the Bruins certainly earned it).

Tok referred to some of the great battles Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders had in the 1980s. The Islanders swept the Oilers in 1983 to win their fourth consecutive Cup. The following year, the Oilers had learned their lesson. They turned things around and took it to the Islanders, winning the Cup in five games.

No one is predicting the Bruins will take it to the Bobcats if the teams meet in the playoffs this year — Austin isn't looking past a pesky Minot team in the first round, while Bismarck is the No. 3 seed and will have its hands more than full against No. 2 Aberdeen — but the message is clear from the coaching staff: This Bruins team needs to not worry about anything other than itself. It needs to play its game, pay the price physically and take the postseason division championship.

I casually asked a couple of veteran players, off the record, about their plans for next season. They weren't having any of that question. It's all about now, about beating Minot and advancing in the postseason.

"The Islanders beat the Oilers the first time they met," Tok said. "The next time, after the ('84 finals), Gretzky looked around the Oilers locker room and every guy had two or three ice bags on. They took it. They earned it. You could take a picture of that locker room and see the guys, they'd earned it, just by the dedication and the pain that they've suffered to win.
"Our guys understand that. We told them after the game last Saturday, there are no more rookies in here. You've been here, you've played a 60-game schedule. We all understand, the guy next to you, he's not a rookie. We're all guys who understand what it takes to win and that's what we're going to do."

LOTS OF CLOSE ONES

Here's a stat that says a lot about this Bruins team: It has played in 35 games — more than half of its 60-game schedule — decided by one or two goals. They are 23-11-1 in those games (and 40-19-1 overall).

In other words, the Bs don't get rattled if the game is tight late in the third period.

"We had a lot of those close games, we're used to it, we know what we need to do in those situations," second-year Bruins defenseman Jake Arroyo said. "We know, every period counts, every shift counts in the playoffs, so it's good that we know how to play in those close situations."

Tok has seen this team develop patience and poise as the season has gone on. And the Bruins have battled so many injuries, that you won't see anyone look around and wonder what the heck they're supposed to do if they're not on the ice with their usual linemates or defensive partner. Actually, with all the injuries this team has had, there's really no such thing as "usual linemates or defensive partners."

"Our guys, we don't panic," Tok said. "We believe in what we have to do on the ice. We talk about the process to get where we want to go. A great example was Friday night in Bismarck. We played a great first period, outshot them 15-5 and we're down 1-0. We walked in the (locker) room, talked about one adjustment — not really even an adjustment, just a reminder — sure enough, came out in the second, got more pucks on the net and took the lead.
"That's the way it is. It was like 'just stick to it here, let's get it done,' and they did."

HIGH PRAISE FOR FOLIN

The Bruins coaching staff, players (current and former) and fans were quite thrilled on Monday to see that former Bs defenseman and two-year UMass-Lowell standout Christian Folin had signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild.

To show that Folin enjoyed his time in Austin, he told Wild.com that he always had an idea that he'd like to return to Minnesota to play.

• Here is a story I wrote for Tuesday's paper that includes reaction on Twitter from some of Folin's former Bruins teammates. (Notice that current Bruin Austin Nelson is among them; kinda crazy to think that Folin was a Bruin two years ago today, and today he skated in Chicago with the Wild).

• Here is NAHL.com's story on the Folin signing.

• Here is the Minnesota Wild's "Pondcast" interview with Folin.

I asked coach Tok what qualities pro teams saw in Folin that made them believe he can play at the NHL level. His answer boiled down to one thing: work ethic.

"He's a guy who was always out there trying to improve his game," Tok said. "He wasn't always playing a rebound game with the goalies or something. He was always working on his shot, working on picking up pucks in transition, always working to get better.
"It's the same with (current Bruin) Guillaume Leclerc (who, coincidentally is committed to UMass-Lowell). You watch after practice, he's always by himself working on his individual skills to make himself better.
"I go back to a kid that we coached (in the USHL) who's playing in the NHL, Joe Pavelski. It was the same thing every practice with him: 'coach, can we do this,' or 'coach, can we do this.' It was always 'coach, coach, coach...' when they're asking to do it, as a coach, it's like, yeah, no problem."

NEW FORMAT FOR ROBERTSON CUP

In recent seasons, NAHL teams that won their first two playoff series advanced to the Robertson Cup, the NAHL's equivalent of the Frozen Four.

The four postseason division winners would play three days of round-robin play, then the two teams with the best records would advance to the national championship game on the fourth day of the Cup finals.

This season, the round robin play has been eliminated, as has the neutral-ice setting.

The last four teams remaining in the NAHL playoffs will be re-seeded based on the league's regular season standings (so, if all four regular-season division champs advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs, Austin would be the No. 3 seed.)

The No. 4 seed will play at the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, both in best 2-out of-3 series, with all three games (if necessary) being played on the higher seed's home ice.

The same goes for the Robertson Cup finals. The team with the highest seed will play host to a best 2-out of-3 series for the national championship.

BRUINS-TAUROS, HEAD-TO-HEAD

Let's take a look at the Austin-Minot first-round matchup:

GOALIES
Minot
: Brandon Wildung (14-7-3, 2.44 GAA, .918 save pct.) and Merrick Madsen (10-16-0, 2.75, .904). Neither Wildung, a Mercyhurst commit, or Madsen, who is headed to Harvard, have played in an NAHL playoff game. That lack of playoff experience could be a factor. The Tauros also have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, ranking No. 19 at 81.8 percent.
Austin: Nick Lehr (35-13-1, 1.84, .932) is in his third season with the Bs and his third trip to the postseason. He was 4-2-0 with a 1.90 GAA and a .942 save pct. in last year's playoffs. The Minnesota recruit has been clutch in close games this year and never panics.
Advantage: Bruins.

FORWARDS
Minot: The Tauros beefed up their scoring ability greatly in early February when they traded for Michael Louria, a UMass-Lowell commit who finished 10th in the league in scoring with 52 points. But beyond Louria, no Tauros player averages even a half-point per game. In fact, their second leading scorer is defenseman Jon Lizotte and another blue-liner, Scott Dornbrock, is tied for third on the team. If the Tauros are going to have a chance, they'll have to keep the score low and get some production from their blue line.
Austin: The Bruins have the second-leading scorer in the NAHL on their team and, somehow, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Jay Dickman seems to go about his business quietly. The Bemidji State recruit isn't flashy, but he has a great, hard shot that has produced 28 goals (to go along with his 36 assists, for 64 points) this season. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Guillaume Leclerc, the Bs second-leading scorer (21-25—46 in 54 games), a 5-8, 165-pound waterbug from France. Opposing teams seem to be more preoccupied with knocking him down than stopping him from scoring. Leclerc gets up every time — and he has taken some clean, hard hits this season — and usually makes the opponent pay. Add in guys like Luke Dietsch, Drew Anderson and Niko Hildenbrand ... I could go down the line to every forward on the roster. They all know their roles and embrace them.
Advantage: Austin.

DEFENSEMEN
Minot: As mentioned, Lizotte and Dornbrock are solid contributors offensively, but the Tauros struggle mightily on the penalty kill. It'll be crucial for them to stay out of the box. The addition of Grand Rapids native Jordan Stejskal in a trade in late January gave the Tauros a bit more grit or "nasty" on the blue line; he has 86 penalty minutes this season, in addition to 11 points. The Tauros' blue-liners will have to find a way to chip in offensively while not doing too much on the offensive end.
Austin: This may be the position group that has improved the most as a whole since the start of the season. Veterans Josh Bretner, Jake Arroyo and Kody Reuter have anchored the group, while newcomers Cory Dunn and Charlie Manley have settled into their roles nicely. The addition of Lucas Kohls — at 6-3, 195 — has given the Bs some more size and physicality on the back-end, too. Kohls moved back to defense when Eli May moved up to a forward spot and it's a switch the coaching staff seems to love.
Advantage: Austin.

THE PREDICTION
Austin has earned the No. 1 seed and is playing some of its best hockey of the season. That said, Minot isn't an easy team to play against, especially up there. I think either Wildung or Madsen steals one from them, but they won't steal three. Bruins in 4.

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.

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.

October 09, 2012

NAHL Hockey | Look back, look ahead for @theaustinbruins

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.).

September 11, 2012

Hockey | NAHL Showcase to feature 129 Minnesotans

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).

September 05, 2012

Local hockey | Emptying my notebook

Posted by: Feldman

Lots of hockey notes that I've let build up that we need to get to here. Now that all of our high school fall sports previews are out of the way, I can get back to some hockey stuff that I've been meaning to get to for, in some cases, months!

Here we go ...

• John Marshall boys coach Jay Ness didn't really celebrate the Fourth of July this summer. He did his celebrating a week or so later, when he spent a few days in Sault Ste Marie, Mich. Ness was there to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of Lake Superior State University's 1992 NCAA Division I hockey championship. It marked the school's second national title in four years, and it would go on to win another, in 1994. Ness played on the 1994 team, as well, as a senior. He finished his four-year LSSU career with 24 goals and 38 assists for 62 points. That '92 LSSU team was coached by Jeff Jackson, now the head coach at Notre Dame. Among the star players on that team: Brian Rolston, who has played more than 1,200 games in the NHL, including 241 with the Minnesota Wild. Rolston had 46 points for the '92 Lakers championship team; Ness had 19 that year (nine goals, 10 assists).

• As things change here at the P-B, my duties are expanding to include coverage of the North American Hockey League's Austin Bruins. The coverage of our local and area high schools won't suffer; but you'll probably notice more blog posts and, if you follow me on Twitter (@PBFeldy), more tweets about the Bruins and the NAHL this season. You likely won't see many stories on the Bruins appear in the actual Rochester print edition; my coverage will be mainly for the Austin edition of the P-B (yes, we put out a separate edition each day in Austin). The stories I do write on the Bruins, I'll link to them here, because ...

• Two former Rochester high school players will be playing really close to home this season. John Marshall's Zach Johnson and former Century standout Drew Anderson have made the Austin Bruins' roster. In addition to this blog, you can keep up with the Bruins on their web site.

• Four current Rochester Lourdes players have been selected as featured players in this year's Minnesota Hockey Hub/Breakdown Sports 2012-13 High School Hockey Guide. Defensemen Karl Krecke and Griff Slightam, and forwards Jason Samuelson and Alex Funk will be the first Eagles players to be featured in the book. We'll link to the book here when it becomes available for purchase. Funk, Samuelson and Krecke begin play in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this weekend.

A bunch of former Lourdes players are still playing and/or are in new places this fall:

• Two of the team's leading scorers from last year, forward Landon Farrell and defenseman Justin Dewitz, will play AAA midgets with Russell Stover this season.

• Former all-state defenseman Rory Vesel is back for his second season with the NAHL's Bismarck (N.D.) Bobcats. Vesel was just starting to play very well last year when he suffered a broken jaw and missed a couple of months. We'll get to watch Vesel a bunch this year, as the Bobcats are in the same division as Austin.

• Former Lourdes defenseman Alec Brandrup is playing close to home, too. He's with the Coulee Region Chill of the NAHL. Coulee Region is based in Onalaska, Wis.

• Another former Eagles d-man, Pete Spratte, will be a freshman at Lake Superior State University this fall. LSSU plays in the CCHA, which will merge into the new-look WCHA after this season. That means Spratte will get to play in Mankato each season, against MSU, Mankato, and former Rochester Mayo standout Charlie Thauwald. Former La Crescent star Eriah Hayes is a senior at MSU, Mankato, this year.

• Ex-Eagles netminder Nick Heimer is a freshman again. Heimer was offered a spot recently at Hamline University and he accepted. I'm going to try to get in touch with Nick in the coming days to find out what he thinks of finally playing college hockey and just how he ended up at Hamline.

• Former Lourdes forward Tyler Voigt will return to Tufts University for his second season of Division III hockey.

• Ex-Lourdes standout F Brandon Bahnemann will be a senior at St. Thomas this year. The 2007 Lourdes grad started his college hockey career at Division I Bentley University, but transferred back closer to home and will close his college career this season.

• Mankato West grad Tyler Bruggeman, the goalie who backstopped the Austin Bruins to the NAHL Central Division championship series last spring, will play college hockey at Division III St. Scholastica in Duluth.

• Former Rochester Century goalie Brock Kautz will play in the NAHL, too, with the Janesville Jets.

• Former Century d-man Connor Faupel will play with the Portage Terriers of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League again this season. Faupel helped the team win the Turnbull Cup, the league's playoff championship, last season and advance to the Royal Bank Cup, the tournament that crowns Canada's Junior A champion.

• Century's Dalton Travis is on the Rochester Ice Hawks opening-day roster. I'm guessing he's doing a before-and-after deal, where he'll play with the Hawks until the high school season starts, then return to them after the high school season ends. I haven't confirmed that, yet, but I'd bet that's the case.

• Red Wing native Ryan Kesti is entering his third season with Northern Michigan University. Kesti lettered for the first time last year, when he had two points in 34 games.

• Byron's DJ Vold is a key returning forward for the Granite City Lumberjacks of the NA3HL. The 'Jacks won the NA3 title last year, in addition to winning the league's Central Division championship.

That's a fairly comprehensive list of area players who are playing in college, juniors or elsewhere this fall. I haven't scoured all college and junior rosters yet, so this isn't complete, but, if you know of former Rochester or area players who are competing in juniors, college or pro hockey, let me know. I'll start compiling a more comprehensive list soon.

August 18, 2012

Junior Hockey | Vesel ready for Year 2 in NAHL

Posted by: Feldman

The North American Hockey League season gets underway in about three weeks, and former Rochester Lourdes standout defenseman Rory Vesel is ready for his second season with the Bismarck (N.D.) Bobcats. Vesel, a 2010-11 Second Team All-State defenseman at Lourdes, had some ups and downs in his first season in Bismarck, including being laid up at home for two months while recovering from a broken jaw.

Earlier this week, Vesel was the subject of a player profile written by Paul Teeple, the Bobcats' Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations. (By the way, if you're a hockey fan and you're on Twitter, follow Paul at @pcteeple -- he's a great follow for all hockey fans). Paul was kind enough to pass on the profile on Vesel, which you can read below.

You can find the NAHL website here, and you can find the Bobcats' website here.

Here's the piece on Vesel, which includes some comments about how he's becoming a good all-around defenseman, blocking shots and playing as hard in the Bobcats' end as he is in their offensive end.

* * *

KNOW YOUR BOBCAT: RORY VESEL

Throuhgout the month of August, BismarckBobcats.com will be taking a one-by-one look at the players on the Bobcats' Training Camp roster.

Today's installment covers Bobcats second-year veteran defenseman Rory Vesel.

Name: Rory Vesel
Position: Defenseman
Hometown: Rochester, MN
2011-12 Team: Bismarck Bobcats
2011-12 Stats: 28 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS, 22 PIM
Favorite Pro Sports Team: Minnesota Twins
Favorite Food: Chicken Alfredo
Highlight of 2011-12: "Beating Aberdeen 4-2 on the last night of the season in front of our fans and all their fans that made the trip; that game gave us a big boost heading into the playoffs."

BLOCK PARTY

When Rory Vesel took the ice for the Bismarck Bobcats in 2011-12, there was never a question what his defensive hallmark was: blocking shots.

"To me, playing defense is just as important as playing offense and scoring goals," explained Vesel, an alumnus of Lourdes High School in Rochester. "So it's important to get down and block shots and do whatever you can to help your team."

Though blocked shots are not an official stat in the NAHL, Vesel had more than one weekend in which unofficial totals credited him with more than 10 blocks, including 11 in a pivotal three-game sweep of Austin and Alexandria in late January that saw the Bobcats seize control of the Central Division.

"If you want to win at the junior level, you've got to be ready to pay the price," stressed Bobcats head coach and general manager Layne Sedevie. "Rory understands that and is willing to sacrifice his body to get in front of shots by anyone."

Despite the fact that shot-blocking isn't exactly a glamour profession in the world of hockey, it suits the soft-spoken blueliner just fine. In fact, when asked if he'd rather block a good scoring chance or lay a big hit, Vesel still picked the block.

"Well, yeah, making a big hit will fire up the crowd and fire up the team," he admitted, "but you could be taking a goal off the board for the other team if you get that block. And what if the goalie wasn't going to get it? Or if we go right back down the ice and score?"

JAW SESSION

Just as Vesel was beginning to come into his own on the blue line for the Bobcats early in 2011-12, his season was interrupted by a broken jaw during a particularly heated game at Minot two days after Thanksgiving -- and exactly a week after his first goal at the junior level.

Sidelined for two months while his jaw healed at his family's home in Rochester, Vesel did what he could to stay in shape and follow the team. In the team's last weekend before Christmas, he made the short trip from Rochester to Austin to lend emotional support to his teammates as the Cats split a two-game series with the Bruins at Riverside Arena.

Though he wouldn't play until late in the month, Vesel returned to Bismarck to train and practice with the Bobcats in January. During his on-ice rehab, he had concerns that the time off had affected him.

"Guys were telling me I looked as skinny as a scarecrow when I got back," he recalled, "so I had to work hard off the ice at Healthways to make sure I got back in shape."

Vesel got the green light to return for the Jan. 27 contest at Austin and wasted no time in announcing his return, blocking four shots -- including a memorable block on hard-shooting Bruins defenseman Christian Folin -- and posting a plus-2 rating in a decisive 6-1 road win.

"I knew that when I got back in, I had to play my best game ever to show the coaches I was ready for the rest of the season," Vesel said.

IDENTITY

One of the most surprising aspects of Vesel's defense-first style during the 2011-12 campaign is that in high school he was more offensively oriented, averaging nearly a point per game in 2010-11 for Lourdes.

"My senior year I guess you could say I had a pretty high number of points for a defenseman," submitted Vesel, who had 10 goals and 13 assists for the Eagles, "but that was in high school. When you play juniors, you need to play the best style that fits the team.
"When you have defensemen on your team like we did last year in Donald Olivieri and Danny Ray and Bryce Anderson, who like to jump into the rush and create chances, it makes you want to stay at home a bit more to make sure we're still covered defensively." 

That said, Vesel hasn't completely closed off the possibility of providing an offensive spark in 2012-13.

"I've been on the ice at least three times a week during the offseason, and one thing I've been working on is mental awareness and seeing opportunities," said Vesel, "because if what I saw at main camp plays out, we'll be a more defensive team this year than last year. If we are more defensively sound, that will give me more confidence to jump up into the play without worrying about hanging our goalies out to dry."

His offensive refinements were evident during the Bobcats' late-July Main Camp, in which he registered four assists in four games -- matching his assist total in 28 regular season games last season.

"Whatever helps the team is what I want to do," Vesel said. "I'm still all about the defense, but if the team needs points, I want to be able to contribute there, too."