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.).