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4 posts categorized "Brookings Blizzard"

March 27, 2015

Bear Tracks: Bruins playing for bigger picture

Posted by: Feldman

As I wrote in today's paper, there are plenty of reasons for the Austin Bruins to not let down this weekend.

Sure, the Bs have their third consecutive NAHL Central Division title wrapped up. Sure, they'll be at home for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But think back to last season, when Austin reached the Robertson Cup semifinals for the first time ever. They had to play three tough games down in Topeka, Kan., in the national semifinals. They bused back home late on a Saturday night, then had to turn around three days later and spend a day traveling to Fairbanks for the Robertson Cup national championship series. 

There's a decent chance the Bruins could again advance to the national semifinals and they'd prefer to not have to get on a bus and travel to Kansas or Texas or Pennsylvania, or wherever the standings may dictate they go.

After the first two rounds of the NAHL playoffs, the home team for the national semifinals and finals are determined by which team had more points in the regular season standings.

The Janesville (Wis.) Jets have locked up home-ice advantage for as long as they continue to win games and playoff series.

Beyond the Jets, six teams are still in line to finish the regular season with the second-most points, behind Janesville:

1. Janesville 96 pts. (2 games remaining)
2. Lone Star Brahmas 84 pts. (2 games remaining)
3. Wichita Falls 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
4. Austin 83 pts. (2 gms rem.)
5. Topeka 82 pts. (3 gms rem.)
6. Fairbanks 80 pts. (2 gms rem.)
7. Minnesota Wilderness 80 pts. (3 gms rem.)

Wichita Falls will finish with more regular season wins than Austin (39-36 right now), so WF would win the tie-breaker. 

Even if Austin doesn't leapfrog enough teams to finish with the second-most points, it would still be ideal to finish with the third-most, and avoid a matchup with Janesville in the Robertson Cup semifinals.

But, I'm getting way ahead of things here. The Bruins have two final regular-season games to play this weekend, against a Brookings (S.D.) team that has been eliminated from the playoff chase and has nothing to play for. Then the Bs would have to win a pair of playoff series against division rivals.

So ... this weekend's games. They're at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Austin and 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings. if nothing else, the Bs want to keep playing well and keep this momentum going that they've built since the start of 2015.

By the way, bring your checkbooks on Friday. The Bs will auction off their jerseys after the game.

We hear every day about this amazing hot streak the Minnesota Wild are on (and it is remarkable). But the Bs have been on a pretty nice run of their own. They're 19-3-3 since a New Year's Eve loss to Coulee Region, with all three regulation losses in this run coming against Brookings.

* * * * *

THIS WEEKEND'S SERIES

BRUINS vs. BROOKINGS BLIZZARD
(7:05 p.m. Friday at Riverside Arena, Austin; 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Brookings)

Records: Brookings 19-30-9 (47 pts., 5th in NAHL Central); Austin 36-11-11 (83 pts., 1st in NAHL Central).
Head coaches: Brookings, Dan Daikawa (1st season, 19-30-9 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 191-105-30 overall)
Blizzard's top scorers: F Beau Michaud (17-32--49); D Zach Glienke (16-21--37); F Nate Colwell (11-22--33); F Joe Anderson (14-14--28); D Ben Campbell (7-17--24).
Blizzard goalies: Ryan Kubic (10-14-5, 2.63 GAA, .910 save pct.); Eric Hancock (8-12-4, 3.15, .891)
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (26-22--48); F Alex Pettersson (8-32--40); F Nico Sturm (11-28--39); F Tony Uglem (20-17--37); F Luke Dietsch (9-25--34).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (19-5-6, 2.19 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (11-1-2, 1.79, .922).

TALE OF THE TAPE

Records (points): Brookings 19-30-9 (47); Austin 36-11-11 (83)
Advantage: Bruins

Head-to-head (points earned): Brookings 3-5-2 (8); Austin 7-3-0 (10)
Advantage: Bruins

Offense: Brookings 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.40 goals per game
Advantage: Bruins

Defense: Brookings 3.30 goals per game allowed; Austin 2.33 goals allowed
Advantage: Bruins

Power play: Brookings 19.1 pct. (9); Austin 13.4 pct. (22)
Advantage: Blizzard

Penalty kill: Brookings 83.2 pct. (13); Austin 89.8 (1)
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending (save pct.): Brookings .897; Austin .909
Advantage: Bruins

* * * * * 

SERIES NOTES

These teams have already met 10 times this year, with Austin going 5-3-0 vs. Brookings. ... Forwards Brian Bachnak and Nico Sturm have played very well against Brookings this season. They're tied with the most points by a Bruins player against Brookings, with nine apiece. ... Austin has made a habit of getting off to strong starts this season, outscoring its opponents 54-31 in the first period and 76-48 in the second. ... The Bruins have the No. 1-ranked penalty kill in the NAHL and have scored 10 short-handed goals this season. ... Bruins goalie Evan Smith has won four consecutive starts.

THE CALL

No need to overthink this. Brookings has nothing to play for. The Bruins have plenty. This isn't to say that Brookings will roll over and play dead. The Blizzard will put up a fight -- as always -- but the Bruins have larger goals in mind and they want to go into next weekend's playoff series against Aberdeen on a high note. Austin's top line (Trevor Boyd-Luke Dietsch-Tony Uglem) has been red-hot the past couple of weeks. Boyd alone has nine points in his past five games. Austin's defensive corps is deep and the Bs have learned to win games in a number of different styles. They'll close the regular season strong: Bruins 5-1, Bruins 4-3.

March 21, 2015

Bear Tracks: Bruins can wrap up division title tonight

Posted by: Feldman

We're just less than an hour away from puck drop at Riverside Arena as I write this.

The NAHL Central Division-leading Austin Bruins (35-11-11) playing host to the last-place Brookings Blizzard (19-28-9). The Bruins are coming off a thoroughly dominant 6-1 victory at Brookings last night. Austin better not have to fight off complacency, though. There's a lot at stake tonight, namely a third consecutive regular-season division championship and home-ice advantage through the playoffs.

Austin will face a Brookings team that is fighting for its season (not that that seemed to matter to the Blizzard last night). Brookings has to win its final four games (three of which are against Austin) and have Aberdeen lose its final three. Very unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Not many stranger things, but some.

Evan Smith will make his fourth consecutive start in goal tonight for the Bs. Sounds like Jake Kielly has a minor injury and letting him rest won't hurt. The Bs have -- fortunately -- had a solid goaltending situation all season. Last year, they had to ride Nick Lehr, no matter how he played (which was outstanding most nights).

This year, they can afford to give Kielly and Smith adequate rest. And it's not like either has been overworked. Kielly hasn't played more than five consecutive games this season. Tonight's start will mark Smith's longest consecutive-start stretch of the year, at four games.


How'd they get here?

With it a virtual certainty that Austin will win the division (it can also win it with a Minot loss tonight), let's take a deep breath for a few seconds and think about where this team has come from to get to this point. Every player and coach I've talked to points back to the beginning of the season, when Austin steamrolled its way to the NAHL Showcase championship in mid-September in Blaine.

That gave the Bs a lot of confidence, maybe too much. 

They hit a stretch in October and into November and December where they looked disjointed at best, uninterested at times and just were not a good team. The one thing the coaching staff kept telling me at that point was that there are talented players on this team, they just need to play as a team, play for each other. I'd imagine that's a message that outspoken captain Brian Bachnak kept repeating in the locker room, too.

The coaches and captains kept pounding that message into the players' heads and, not surprisingly, when the calendar flipped to 2015, something flipped in all of the Bruins' heads, too. A lightbulb went on within the team, if you like that cliche.

It's not like the Bruins were awful. They were 17-8-8 after a home loss to Coulee Region on New Year's Eve. But the record didn't necessarily match the level of play from the team for much of the first half.

I've used this stat ad naseum, but it's a very telling number and one that shows just how far this team has come: Since Jan. 1, Austin is 18-3-3, with all three regulation losses coming against Brookings. 

I've asked and asked, coaches and players both, what the difference has been. Nobody can put their finger on any one thing. The most common answer I get: We're playing as a team. That is probably the most logical explanation. A difference line, a different player seems to step up each night. Last night, for example, six players scored once each. Seven different players have scored game-winning goals in the past eight games.

The Bruins aren't overwhelming opponents, but they're finding different ways to win. That's a pretty good recipe for postseason success. If they win tonight, a majority of those postseason games will be here at Riverside.


NAHL Central Division standings
Austin        35-11-11   81
Minot         35-16-6    76
Bismarck    28-25-4    60
Aberdeen   26-29-2    54
Brookings   19-28-9    47


Tonight's starters

Brookings
G 30 Ryan Kubic (10-13-5, 2.51 GAA, .913 save pct.)
D 5 Connor Spetz (2-6--8) / 24 Kris Brun (1-8--9)
F 27 Nate Colwell (9-12--21) / 19 Connor Hutchins (6-9--15) / 7 Zach Glienke (16-21--37)
(scratches: D Gavin Mindt, F Max Rasberg, F Colton Schmidt)

Austin
G 30 Evan Smith (10-1-2, 1.77 GAA, .924 save pct.)
D 28 Jake Arroyo (3-9--12) / 24 Riese Zmolek (0-0--0)
F 13 Trevor Boyd (23-21--44) / 11 Luke Dietsch (9-24--33) / 14 Tony Uglem (21-16--37)
(scratches: D Derek Olmschenk, D Landen Letwin, F Jade Miller)

February 13, 2015

Junior Hockey | Bear Tracks: The weekend ahead for the Austin Bruins

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). 
Advantage: Bruins.

Head to head (Points earned): Austin 3-1-0 (6), Brookings 1-1-2 (4). 
Advantage: Bruins.

Offense: Austin 3.24; Brookings 2.65. 
Advantage: Bruins.

Defense: Austin 2.39; Brookings 3.21. 
Advantage: Bruins.

Power play (league rank): Austin 14.2 percent (17); Brookings 20.8 (9). 
Advantage: Blizzard.

Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.6 percent (1); Brookings 78.2 percent (20). 
Advantage: Bruins.

Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .907; Brookings .889. 
Advantage: Bruins.

SERIES NOTES
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 CALL
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.

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.).