Posted by: Feldman
Good afternoon from casa de Feldy. I meant to have this done last night, but kids have a way of pushing my work timeline back. At least I'm hitting "publish" on this post a good 3 1/2 hours before puck drop. That feels like an accomplishment!
I'll be SpamTown-bound in less than two hours to watch Game 1 of what should be a hard-fought and entertaining NAHL Central Division Finals playoff series.
The Minot Minotauros (40-17-6) and Austin Bruins (41-11-11) are pretty much mirror images. Great coaching staffs on both sides. Balanced, deep lineups on both sides. Both teams like to play a physical, gritty style of hockey. As Bs forward Luke Dietsch put it to me a few days ago, the defensemen in this series will have fun standing out at the point and bombing away, then it's up to the forwards out front to win some battles and get some greasy goals.
Before we get too far into the series, here a few links to stories to check out when you have some time:
* Bruins coaches could be in their final run with the team (we'll get more into this shortly)
* Series preview: Bruins ready for all-out battle against Minot
MINOT DAILY NEWS
* Veteran coaches have been key to Tauros' success
Also, for Minot's perspective on the series, follow the Minot Daily News' Tauros beat writer Joe Mellenbruch at @Mellenbruch_MDN
As far as what's happening with the Bruins coaches, let's keep this short, because it's time to focus on a huge series for the Bs and Tauros. Many things have been reported in the past few days. All we can do as reporters is report what's been told to us on the record. That said, some things have been put out there that aren't accurate.
I'll stand by what was written in the story linked above and the couple of tweets that I put out there on Wednesday.
Here's what I'd say: Go back and read the initial tweets put out by Andy Johnson, a USHL and NAHL scout who, until recently was also the main University of WIsconsin writer/reporter for Bucky's 5th Quarter, a website dedicated to Badgers athletics. Andy knows his stuff and he takes a lot of pride in being correct. The only thing I have been told is that Brookings' Kyle Grabowski has not yet been offered the coaching job, though he did interview for it.
I can't get Andy's initial tweets to embed, so here are links to them:
1. The initial tweet that got the ball rolling
2. The follow-up tweet
3. First time Grabowski's name was brought into this
I'll add this: I've never met or communicated with Kyle Grabowski and didn't intend for anything I've written to reflect negatively upon him. He, or whoever ends up being the next coach of the Bruins, has a tough act to follow. With as competitive as the NAHL has become, you can't just throw a team on the ice and expect to win. You have to be willing to work, or at least be on call, 24/7, 365. To win, you have to turn over rocks that other scouts don't even know are there. I'll have a story next week in the P-B, leading into Games 3 and 4 of the Minot-Austin series, addressing just how hard it is to win in the NAHL these days.
Let's move on to some hockey, eh?
NAHL CENTRAL DIVISION FINAL SERIES
AUSTIN BRUINS vs. MINOT MINOTAUROS
Game 1: 7:05 p.m. tonight, at Austin
Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Saturday, at Austin
Game 3: 7:35 p.m. May 1, at Minot
* Game 4: 7:35 p.m., May 2, at Minot
* Game 5: 7:05 p.m., May 4, at Austin
* -- if necessary
Records: Minot (37-17-6 reg. season, 2nd in Central, 40-17-6 overall); Austin (38-11-11, Division champs, 41-11-11 overall)
Path to the Division Finals: (2) Minot swept (3) Bismarck, 3-0; (1) Austin swept (4) Aberdeen, 3-0.
Head coaches: Minot, Marty Murray (3rd season, 92-86-13 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 198-104-29 overall)
Tauros leading scorers (reg ssn/playoffs): F Blake Lizotte (14-38--52/0-3--3); F Christian Mohs (18-33--51/1-1--2); F Johnny Walker (20-22--42/1-1--2); D Jon Lizotte (10-24--34/0-1--1); F Nick Monfils (15-16--31/3-0--3).
Tauros goalies (reg ssn/playoffs): Atte Tolvanen (26-13-6, 1.94 GAA, .922 save pct. / 3-0, 1.33, .937)
Bruins leading scorers (reg ssn/playoffs): F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50/1-3--4); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43/0-3--3); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41/4-0--4); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39/1-2--3); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37/2-1--3); D Ian Scheid (12-23--35/2-0--2).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct. / 2-0, 1.50, .927); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923 / 1-0, 5.00, .800).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Records (reg ssn/playoffs): Minot (37-17-6 / 3-0-0); Austin (38-11-11 / 3-0-0)
Head-to-head (points earned): Minot 4-0-0 (8); Austin 0-1-3 (3).
Offense: Minot 3.07 goals per game; Austin 3.50 goals per game
Defense: Minot 2.28 goals allowed per game; Austin 2.27 goals allowed per game
Power play (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 15.0 pct. (15); Austin 14.2 pct. (19).
Penalty kill (NAHL rank): Minot 87.02 pct. (4); Austin 90.18 pct. (1).
Goaltending (save pct.): Minot .909; Austin .907.
Former Mankato West defenseman Max Mettler is in his first season with Minot. He has 3-9--12 in 49 games this season. He has no points in the playoffs, but has a plus-4 plus/minus ratio. ... Tauros goalie Atte Tolvanen is a Northern Michigan commit and was named the Central Division MVP and Goalie of the Year earlier this week. ... The Tauros have two other players committed to D-1 schools. Leading scorer Blake Lizotte and top defenseman Jon Lizotte have committed to St. Cloud State. ... Amazingly, despite losing all but five players from last year's Robertson Cup finals team, the Bruins scored 21 more goals in the regular season this year (210) than last year (189) during the regular season. ... While Austin is a remarkable 24-3-3 since Jan. 1, Minot is 19-9-3 in that same span, including just 6-4-0 in its final 10 regular-season games. ... The Bruins have lost just once in regulation since Feb. 13. ... The Tauros are slightly better on the road (22-7-2) than at home (18-10-4) this season, including the playoffs. The Bruins are 22-4-6 at home and 19-7-5 on the road.
Posted by: Feldman
The Austin Bruins did their job last weekend, as they have throughout the second half of the season. They went to last-place Brookings and made the Blizzard look like a team that had nothing to play for, sweeping the two-game regular season-finale series by a combined score of 13-1.
That gives the Bs a 38-11-11 record heading into the NAHL playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the Central Division. They'll face fourth-seeded Aberdeen (27-31-2) in a best 3-of-5 first-round series, beginning with Games 1 and 2 at 7:05 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Riverside Arena.
Here is a story from Thursday's P-B about how this year's Bruins team is different from the division title teams of the past two years.
Here is a story that is in today's P-B on the Bruins' two veteran defensemen and alternate captains, Jake Arroyo and Cory Dunn.
Dunn and Arroyo are both guys who didn't arrive in Austin with a lot of buzz, but have developed into leaders on and off the ice. As Dunn said earlier this week, players who come to Austin, buy into what the coaches are asking them to do and continue to learn and improve will eventually earn their ice time.
That's what Dunn, in his second year with the team, has done. He didn't play regularly in the first half of last season. But he stuck with it, continued to learn the team's systems and learn what the coaching staff expected of him. By the time the postseason rolled around, it was hard to keep him off the ice. He had earned regular shifts on the penalty kill and the power play and it was evident his confidence had grown.
Arroyo is the only third-year Bruin on this team and the only player to be a part of all three of Austin's Central Division regular season championships. As I noted in today's story, he's a captain for a reason. This time of year, coaches and players talk a lot about sacrificing for the team. Arroyo does that on a nightly basis, whether it's dropping to block shots, throwing body checks or refusing to allow opponents to set up in front of Bs goalies Evan Smith and Jake Kielly.
Dunn and Arroyo are two of six players on the Bruins roster with NAHL playoff experience. The others are forward and team captain Brian Bachnak, and forwards Alex Pettersson, Luke Dietsch and Trevor Boyd. At practice this week, I got the sense that those guys are trying to pound it into the heads of the guys who are new to the NAHL playoffs: This time of year is different. You take a night off, your season might be over.
Aberdeen, which hasn't beaten Austin in regulation in eight tries this season, had to battle just to make the postseason. Expect the Wings to play with a sense of desperation from the opening drop of the puck tonight. The Bruins' 21-3-3 record since Jan. 1 means little at this point. It's a nice number to look at, but has no bearing on the games being played anymore.
In other words, the Bruins' captains are imploring their teammates to not just match, but to exceed Aberdeen's sense of desperation.
The five guys who were on the Bs playoff roster last season (Boyd's playoff experience came two years ago when he played for Kalamazoo) remember what happened in their playoff opener. The Bs came in riding high as regular season division champs, then subsequently gave up four goals in the first 16:09 and lost to Minot 8-6 at Riverside. The Bs rebounded to win the next three games -- including a series-clinching 4-3, 3-OT victory in Game 4 at Minot that stands as the longest game in NAHL history at 116 minutes, 57 seconds. They went on to beat Bismarck in the Central Division playoff championship series and advanced all the way to the Robertson Cup finals, where they lost to Fairbanks in two games.
If you want to take a little trip down memory lane before the 2015 NAHL playoffs begin in less than 7 hours, here's a blog post about Lucas Kohls' goal that won that marathon game at Minot.
All right, I could go off on tangents all day, but let's get back to the present. Austin is playing as well as any team in the NAHL -- even the Janesville (Wis.) Jets, who set league records for regular-season victories (49) and points (100), and lost just nine times in regulation during their 60-game regular season. Both Austin and Janesville bring six-game winning streaks into the playoffs.
Some other links before we get to the Tale of the Tape:
* KAAL-TV: Bruins confident heading into postseason
* KAAL-TV: This week's Austin Bruins coach's show
* Aberdeen American News: Wings hope to win playoff series for first time
* * * * *
NAHL CENTRAL DIVISION SEMIFINAL SERIES
AUSTIN BRUINS vs. ABERDEEN WINGS
Game 1: 7:05 p.m. tonight, at Austin
Game 2: 7:05 p.m. Saturday, at Austin
Game 3: 7:15 p.m. April 10, at Aberdeen
* Game 4: 7:15 p.m., April 11, at Aberdeen
* Game 5: 7:05 p.m., April 17, at Austin
* -- if necessary
(all dates and times according to NAHL.com)
Regular-season records: Aberdeen 27-31-2 (4th in NAHL Central); Austin 38-11-11 (1st in NAHL Central)
Head coaches: Aberdeen, Francis Anzalone (1st season, 27-31-2 overall); Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 195-104-29 overall)
Wings leading scorers: F Kyle Haak (19-35--54); F Michael Soucier (18-17--35); F Bjorn Sigurdarson (14-17--31); D Tanner Okeson (7-18--25); F Tucker DeYoung (10-10--20).
Wings goalies: Andrew Shortridge (15-15-1, 2.57 GAA, .913 save pct.); Luke Kania (4-3-0, 2.28, .938).
Bruins leading scorers: F Trevor Boyd (26-24--50); F Alex Pettersson (11-32--43); F Nico Sturm (11-30--41); F Tony Uglem (22-17--39); F Luke Dietsch (9-28--37).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (20-5-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct.); Evan Smith (12-1-2, 1.73, .923).
* * * * *
TALE OF THE TAPE
Records (points): Aberdeen 27-31-2 (56 points, 4th in NAHL Central); Austin 38-11-11 (87 points, 1st in NAHL Central).
Head-to-head (points earned): Aberdeen 3-5-0 (6 pts.); Austin 5-0-3 (13 pts.). All three of Aberdeen's wins came in OT or shootout.
Offense: Aberdeen 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.5 goals per game
Defense: Aberdeen 2.75 goals allowed per game; Austin 2.27 goals allowed per game
Power play (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 15.3 pct. (13); Austin 14.2 pct. (19).
Penalty kill (NAHL rank): Aberdeen 84.2 pct. (9); Austin 90.2 pct. (1).
Goaltending (save pct.): Aberdeen .909; Austin .907.
* * * * *
Wings leading scorer Kyle Haak is an Air Force commit. He'll play there with former Bruins F A.J. Reid and for head coach Frank Serratore, a former Austin Mavericks and Rochester Mustangs coach. ... The Bruins finished with the third-most points in the league (87), behind only Janesville (100) and Lone Star (88). Austin did it without a player in the top 25 in the NAHL in points (Bs leading scorer Trevor Boyd ranks 30th with 50 points) and without a top-10 goal-scorer (Boyd is 13th with 26 goals). ... Wings goalie Luke Kania has started seven of nine games since he was picked up by Aberdeen in late February. He made his first NAHL start against the Bruins on Feb. 28, a 3-1 loss in which he made 42 saves. Kania has stopped more than 35 shots in five of his seven starts.
The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. That's no bold statement. Coaches know it. Players know it. Fans certainly know. But to actually play postseason hockey is different than hearing about it. Austin has six guys with NAHL playoff experience, five who have played in a postseason game for the Bruins. That experience factor probably gets oversold, especially with this Bruins team, which played important games for essentially the entire second half of the regular season, as it tracked down and passed Minot to win the Central Division title. Still, it's difficult to end a team's season. Aberdeen hasn't been an easy team to beat all season. The Bruins are the better team, though. They proved that through the long haul. I think Aberdeen gets one win in the series, but not this weekend: Austin 5-2, Austin 4-3.
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)
Head-to-head (points earned): Brookings 3-5-2 (8); Austin 7-3-0 (10)
Offense: Brookings 2.37 goals per game; Austin 3.40 goals per game
Defense: Brookings 3.30 goals per game allowed; Austin 2.33 goals allowed
Power play: Brookings 19.1 pct. (9); Austin 13.4 pct. (22)
Penalty kill: Brookings 83.2 pct. (13); Austin 89.8 (1)
Goaltending (save pct.): Brookings .897; Austin .909
* * * * *
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.
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.
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
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)
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)
Posted by: Feldman
I know I'm pushing this right up against game time, but, hey better a little early than never, right? Right.
Should we really be surprised that there are five weeks to go in the regular season and the Austin Bruins are starting to play their best hockey? It's been a theme under head coach Chris Tok over the first five years of the Bruins' existence.
After winning two games in extra time at the Midwest Division-leading Minnesota Wilderness last weekend, the Bruins again control their own destiny in their pursuit of a third consecutive NAHL Central Division regular-season championship.They also became the first Central team to wrap up a playoff spot. If the Bs win both games this weekend against Aberdeen (7:05 p.m. tonight, Saturday) at Riverside Arena, and Bismarck loses twice in regulation against the Wilderness, the Bruins will clinch home ice in the first round of the NAHL playoffs.
Perhaps the biggest sign that things have turned around for the Bs is their success in extra-time games as of late. They've won four of their past five games that have gone to OT or a shootout, dating back to Jan. 21. Prior to this stretch, Austin had won just three of 13 extra-time games this season.
Every point is crucial in the standings for teams in a very competitive Central Division. The Bruins have done a nice job of grabbing those extra points over the past month.
Austin (29-10-11, 69 points) has a five-point lead over Minot (29-13-6, 64 points). Minot has 12 games remining, while Austin has just 10. But even if Minot won those two games they have in hand, that still would put them a point back of the Bruins.
The Bruins' coaches won't let the players get caught up in counting points and chasing points. Still too much time left for that. They just need to keep playing the way they're playing. If they do, we'll see a lot of playoff hockey at Riverside again this spring.
Check out just how good Austin has been since the calendar flipped to 2015:
* In their 17 games since the start of January, the Bruins are 12-2-3 overall.
* Eight of those games have gone to OT or a shootout, with Austin winning five.
* Five times in those 17 games, Austin has scored more than five goals.
* In the two regulation losses (both against last-place Brookings), the Bs outshot Brookings by a combined 17 shots on goal.
* Austin has outscored its opponents 66-38 over the past 17 games.
All those things considered, the Bruins can't let up. As you'll note in the next-to-last bullet point, their two regulation losses in 2015 came against Brookings, a team battling to stay out of the Central Division basement, a team that could potentially be the Bruins' first-round playoff opponent.
This weekend, Austin gets the team that Brookings is trying to track down for the final playoff spot from the division, the Aberdeen Wings.
Aberdeen is 23-24-2, and with 48 points is five points up on Brookings for that last playoff spot. That means the Bruins should get a hungry Wings team. If Austin doesn't match Aberdeen's intensity and play with the same kind of urgency, the Bs will have Minot breathing right down their necks.
Some quick notes before we break down this weekend's series:
* Former Bruins goalie Nick Lehr made his college debut on Thursday night for Minnesota in its 5-3 victory against Michigan State. It sounds like Gophers' starter Adam Wilcox will be good to go for tonight's series finale, but Lehr showed he can play at the highest level, settling in after a shaky start.
* Former Bruin A.J. Reid is the fourth-leading scorer for the Air Force Academy Falcons. He has seven goals and 24 points through 35 games for Air Force (13-18-4).
* Goalie Zach Driscoll, who started the season with Bruins before being called up to the USHL, is 6-2-1 for the Omaha Lancers with a 2.79 goals-against average and an .898 save percentage. Driscoll is a St. Cloud State University commit.
* * * * *
THIS WEEKEND'S SERIES
ABERDEEN WINGS at AUSTIN BRUINS
7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, Riverside Arena
Records: Austin 29-10-11 (69 pts., 1st in NAHL Central), Aberdeen 23-24-2 (48 pts., 4th in NAHL Central)
Head coaches: Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 184-104-30 overall); Aberdeen, Francis Anzalone (1st season, 23-24-2 overall)
Wings top scorers: F Kyle Haak (14-29--43); F Michael Soucier (16-19--35); F Bjorn Sigurdarson (11-10--21); D Tanner Okeson (6-14--20).
Wings goalies: Andrew Shortridge (15-11-1, 2.53 GAA, .915 save pct.); Tanner Elmore (0-0-0, 0.00, .000); Luke Kania (0-0-0, 0.00, .000).
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (19-20--39); F Alex Pettersson (7-26--33); F Tony Uglem (18-14--32); F Nico Sturm (10-22--32); F Luke Dietsch (7-23--30); D Ian Scheid (10-14--24); D Cory Dunn (4-20--24).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (17-4-6, 2.21 GAA, .904 save pct.); Evan Smith (6-1-2, 2.02, .923).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Records (points): Austin 29-10-11 (69); Aberdeen 23-24-2 (48)
Head-to-head (points earned): Bruins 3-0-3 (9); Aberdeen 2-3-1 (5)
Offense: Austin 3.32 goals per game; Aberdeen 2.35 gpg
Defense: Austin 2.44 goals allowed per game; Aberdeen 2.80 gapg
Power play (league rank): Austin 14.3 pct. (19th); Aberdeen 16.6 pct. (11th)
Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.3 pct. (1st); Aberdeen 84.8 (7th)
Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .904; Aberdeen .906
Keep an eye on the players from each team who participated in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament earlier this week, Monday and Tuesday in Ann Arbor, Mich. Trevor Boyd, Luke Dietsch, Ian Scheid and Cory Dunn represented the Bruins, while Aberdeen sent forwards Kyle Haak and Bjorn Sigurdarson. That's a lot of travel and play in a short period of time; by the time Saturday's game in Austin has finished, those guys will all have played six games in nine days. ... Aberdeen traded standout goalie Chad Catt to the Soo Eagles two weeks ago (Catt actually played for Team Central at the Top Prospects Tourney this week, as he had been named to the Central team prior to the trade). The Wings look like they'll ride Andrew Shortridge (15-11-1, 2.53 GAA, .915 save pct.) the rest of the way. They have three other goalies on the roster, none who appeared to have played in the NAHL this season. ... Six different players have scored game-winning goals for Austin in the past seven games.
The Bruins haven't lost a home game in regulation since a 3-1 setback to Brookings on Jan. 3, a span of 55 days. The Bruins' coaching staff has this team playing almost exactly how it wants to at this stage of the season. The close race for the division title should help the Bs from becoming complacent. And, as you likely know, if they look complacent one night, coaches Chris Tok and Jamie Huffman will make sure they do not look complacent two nights in a row. Aberdeen has been far better at home (15-8-1) than on the road (8-16-1) this season. Add all that up and it feels like a good weekend for the Bruins and their fans in their home barn. The call: Bruins 5-2, Bruins 5-3.
Posted by: Feldman
Six weeks remain in the North American Hockey League regular season and, though the Austin Bruins have taken over first place in the Central Division, things get no easier this weekend for the Bs.
After splitting a home-and-home series with the last-place Brookings Blizzard last weekend, the Bruins have a two-game set at North Division leader Minnesota Wilderness this weekend (7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday, in Cloquet).
Austin's 4-1 loss at Brookings last Friday snapped the Bruins' 11-game unbeaten streak. They responded nicely on Saturday -- something they haven't always done this season -- with a 7-1 win at home against Brookings last Saturday. Bruins captain Brian Bachnak had his first NAHL hat trick in that game.
The Bruins (27-10-11) are 1-2-1 against the Wilderness (32-10-4) this season. The two regulation losses came back on Nov. 21-22 at Cloquet. The teams will meet this weekend, then again in a two-game series in Austin on March 13-14.
Aside from a home series against Aberdeen next weekend, the Bruins face only the Wilderness and Brookings the rest of the way.
A couple of links to check out before we get to this weekend's matchup breakdown:
* Bruins play-by-play man John Peterson wrote a piece this week for the Bruins' website on former Bs forward C.J. Smith, who is having a strong freshman season at UMass-Lowell. Smith is part of an Austin-to-Lowell pipeline that includes current Wild defenseman Christian Folin, as well as Lucas Kohls (also a freshman at UML this season) and Guillaume Leclerc, who is committed to Lowell and playing with Madison in the USHL this season.
* Bachnak made the NAHL Plays of the Week highlight video for his goal 9 seconds into a period on Saturday. Bachnak's highlight starts at about the 3:44 mark of this video.
On to this weekend's series...
AUSTIN BRUINS at MINNESOTA WILDERNESS
7:05 p.m. tonight, 7:05 p.m. Saturday
At Northwoods Credit Union Arena, Cloquet
Records: Austin 27-10-11, 65 points, 1st in NAHL Central Division; Wilderness 32-10-4, 68 points, 1st in NAHL North Division.
Head coaches: Austin, Chris Tok (5th season, 182-104-30 overall); Wilderness, Corey Millen (2nd season, 71-27-13 overall).
Bruins top scorers: F Trevor Boyd (19-20--39); F Alex Pettersson (7-25--32); F Tony Uglem (16-14--30); F Luke Dietsch (7-23--30); F Nico Sturm (10-19--29); D Ian Scheid (10-13--23).
Bruins goalies: Jake Kielly (15-4-6, 2.12 GAA, .906 save pct.); Evan Smith (6-1-2, 2.02, .923).
Wilderness top scorers: F Aaron Miller (11-30--41); F Darian Romanko (22-17--39); F Tyler Cline (20-17--37); D Ivan Chukarov (9-25--34); F Niklas Lehtimaki (19-13--32).
Wilderness goalies: Ryan Anderson (21-6-3, 2.20, .897); Brock Kautz (10-4-1, 2.09, .916).
TALE OF THE TAPE
Record (points): Austin 27-10-11 (65), Wilderness 32-10-4 (68)
Head-to-head (points earned): Wilderness 3-0-1 (7), Austin 1-2-1 (3)
Offense: Austin 3.27, Wilderness 3.48
Defense: Austin 2.40, Wilderness 2.33
Power play (league rank): Austin 13.8 pct. (18th); Wilderness 24.5 pct. (3)
Penalty kill (league rank): Austin 89.5 pct. (1st); Wilderness 83.7 pct. (10)
Goaltending (save pct.): Austin .906 save pct.; Wilderness .898
The Bruins can clinch a playoff spot with two victories and two Brookings losses this weekend. ... The Wilderness haven't lost in regulation, going 3-0-1 vs. the Bruins so far this season. The teams have four meetings remaining, counting tonight's game. ... Wilderness goalie Brock Kautz is a former Rochester Century standout, who is in his fifth season in the NAHL. He has played in 118 career games for Owatonna, Janesville and the Wilderness, and has a career record of 53-49-12, with six shutouts, a 2.72 GAA and a .912 save pct. ... Ryan Anderson has started every game except one in goal for Minnesota since Nov. 26. ... Tyler Cline has scored the game-winning goal in three of the past four games for the Wilderness. ... The Bruins are 9-1-3 in their past 14 games. Alex Jasiek has three game-winning goals in that span. ... Both teams are nearly unbeatable when they score first; the Bruins are 18-2-5, while the Wilderness are a remarkable 26-2-2. ... The Bruins haven't lost this season when leading after two periods. They're 20-0-5 in those games.
The Bruins got a wake-up call last Friday against Brookings, who snapped the Bs 11-game unbeaten streak with a 4-1 win. Austin responded on Saturday with one of their most impressive performances of the season in a 7-1 victory. Both of these teams are playing very well and both are holding slim leads atop their division standings (Austin leads Minot by three points, the Wilderness lead Fairbanks by one point). The Wilderness won twice in regulation against the Bruins the last time these teams met in Cloquet, but that was late November, when a Bruins team full of guys who were new to Austin was trying to find its identity. Austin seems to have found it: It's not a team that's going to win many games in blowouts, but it is a deep team that can feel comfortable rolling any of four lines or three defensive pairings. It also has two goalies playing very well. The Wilderness are playing quite well, too, going 8-1-1 in their past 10, and they're on their home ice. Both teams get some points this weekend. The call: Wilderness 5, Bruins 3 (en); Bruins 3, Wilderness 2 (OT).
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.
PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show returns today with the Ice Hawks in the middle of a four-game skid. The Ice Hawks will try to get things going back in the right direction this weekend with road games at the Steele County Blades (Friday) and the Hudson Crusaders (Sunday).
Enjoy the show, and let us know what we can do better or what you'd like to hear more of on the Phersy and Fatis Show.
PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show returns today. We break down last weekend's victories and look ahead to this weekend's two-game set.
The Ice Hawks hit the road Friday night for a 7 p.m. game against the Steele County Blades in Owatonna. They host the Energy at 7:05 p.m. Saturday back at the Rec Center. Yet another big weekend for the boys.
Enjoy the show!