Posted by: Feldman
Another weekend, another key NAHL Central Division series for the Austin Bruins. A sweep this weekend will leave the Bruins just one point shy of clinching a playoff spot.
Austin is on an 8-0-3 run since Jan. 9, a run that has lifted it back into sole possession of first place for the first time since early in the season. The Bruins are coming off a very emotional weekend. They held their fifth annual Paint the Rink Pink night last Saturday, raising more than $25,000 through a jersey auction for the Hormel Institute in Austin, for breast cancer research. There were also some fireworks on the ice, as the Magicians let their frustrations out and resorted to a bit of thuggery in the third period.
There are seven weeks to go in the regular season and the Bruins play Friday-Saturday series on six of those weekends. The only hiccup in that mix is the first week of March, when the Bs play host to Brookings on Wednesday, March 4, then play at Brookings on Saturday, March 7.
Speaking of the Blizzard, the Bruins will become very familiar with them over the remainder of the regular season. The teams will meet in eight of Austin's final 14 games. I wrote a bit about that here in this week's Junior Hockey Notebook, which ran in Thursday's P-B.
The Bruins have a chance to pull away from second-place Minot (the Bs have just a two-point lead over the Tauros, who happen to have a game in hand on the Bruins) by facing last-place Brookings eight times in the final 14 games. BUT, Brookings hasn't made life easy on Austin this season. Austin is 3-1-0 vs. the Blizzard, but that includes two OT victories.
In other notes this week ...
* The Bruins had the Central Division Star of the Week for a third consecutive week, as forward Trevor Boyd was honored for his play in a two-game sweep of the Minnesota Magicians last weekend.
* Former Bs forward Trey Dodd has committed to play D-I hockey at Brown University. Dodd has 13 points in 21 games this season for Dubuque of the USHL. He had 17 points in 45 games last season for the Bruins, and he started this season in Austin, where he had 1 assist in nine games played.
On to this weekend's series...
AUSTIN vs. BROOKINGS
at Larson Ice Arena, 7:15 p.m. tonight; Riverside Arena, 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Records: Austin 26-9-11, 63 points, 1st in Central Division; Brookings 15-20-8, 38 points, 5th in Central Division.
Head coaches: Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 181-103-30 overall); Brookings, Dan Daikawa (1st season, 15-20-8 overall).
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (19-18--37); F Alex Pettersson (7-25--32); F Tony Uglem (16-14--30); F Luke Dietsch (7-23--30); F Nico Sturm (10-18--28); D Ian Scheid (10-12--22); D Cory Dunn (3-19--22).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (14-4-6, 2.20 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (6-0-2, 1.71, .934).
Blizzard top scorers: F Beau Michaud (14-29--43); F Zach Glienke (16-18--34); F Nate Colwell (7-20--27); F Blake Kelley (9-13--22); D Ben Campbell (5-16--21); F Joe Anderson (11-9--20).
Blizzard goalies: Ryan Kubic (7-7-5, 2.37 GAA, .915 save pct.); Eric Hancock (7-10-3, 3.01, .895).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Record (Points): Austin 26-9-11 (63), Brookings 15-20-8 (38).
Head to head (Points earned): Austin 3-1-0 (6), Brookings 1-1-2 (4).
Offense: Austin 3.24; Brookings 2.65.
Defense: Austin 2.39; Brookings 3.21.
Power play (league rank): Austin 14.2 percent (17); Brookings 20.8 (9).
Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.6 percent (1); Brookings 78.2 percent (20).
Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .907; Brookings .889.
The Bruins are on their longest unbeaten streak of the season, going 8-0-3 in their past 11 games. With a sweep this weekend, Austin will be one point away from clinching a playoff spot. ... The Bruins are tied with Midwest Division-leading Janesville for the fewest regulation losses in the NAHL this season, with nine. Austin also has the most shootout/overtime losses, 11. ... The last time Austin lost a game in regulation was on Jan. 3 at home against Brookings. ... The Bruins have played 16 overtime games this season. ... While Brookings is in last place in the division, it is very much alive for a playoff spot. The Blizzard trail Aberdeen by just four points for the fourth spot in the division standings. The top four in the division make the postseason.
The Blizzard are no pushover for being a last-place team. They're still battling hard for a playoff spot and there's a reasonable chance they could end up facing Austin in the first round of the Central Division postseason. Brookings added some scoring punch last week through a pair of trades. They acquired D Ben Campbell (5-16--21) from Kenai River and F Blake Kelley (9-13--22) from Coulee Region. But Austin is playing like a typical Bruins team this time of year; it's really tough to score on, tough get good chances against and difficult to beat. The Bs are strong in goal, solid at D and they're rolling four lines, any one of which can be relied upon. I wasn't sure where this Bruins team would end up, with all the new faces at the start of the season. They're starting to play like they'll challenge for another Central Division postseason title. The call: Austin 3-2, Austin 5-2.