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.