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114 posts categorized "Junior Hockey"

April 05, 2014

Junior Hockey | Wild playoff opener for Austin, Minot

Posted by: Feldman

First off, there's no need to panic if you an Austin Bruins fan. 

Yes, the Bs are down 1-0 in a best-of-5 NAHL Central Division semifinal playoff series against Minot after an 8-6 loss at Riverside Arena on Friday. 

Here's the game story that is in Saturday's Post-Bulletin.

Yes, it was less-than-pretty hockey.

But, remember, this Bruins team won 40 games in the regular season and a second consecutive division title. Teams don't do that if they're not mentally tough. This Bruins team is mentally tough, though we certainly saw that toughness tested tonight by a number of Tauros players who were doing their best to get under the Bruins' skin. 

This game was such an aberration for both teams for a number of reasons:

* Minot had scored more than four goals in a game just once during the 60-game regular season. It scored four in the first 16:07 on Friday.

* Austin won all four regular-season meetings this season at home against Minot. The Tauros hadn't won a game at Riverside since April 13, 2013, which was Game 2 of a Central Division semifinal series.

* Austin goalie Nick Lehr wasn't sharp. He let in at least two that he'd like to have back, I'm sure, but he also received very little help in front of him. On at least three Minot goals, the goal-scorer was allowed to walk into close range without being touched or covered. In other words, seven of Minot's eight goals (not counting the empty-netter at the end) were full-team breakdowns on Austin's part. 

* Lehr gave up four goals in the first period. He gave up four goals just four times in 49 regular-season appearances. He had never given up more than five in a game during his three seasons with the Bruins. Minot scored five in the first 26 minutes.

* Minot was 3-for-5 on the power play. That was completely out of character for a Bruins penalty kill that was outstanding in the regular season, ranking No. 2 in the league with a 90.5 percent kill rate. "Both of their first two power plays, we had an opportunity to cut cycles off and clear pucks and we didn't do it," Tok said. "They got second opportunities that ended up in the back of the net. So, losing battles because we were stick-checking. It gave them more opportunities to score and they capitalized."

That probably sounds like I'm hanging the loss on Lehr, which is not the case. That's not fair to him, considering it wasn't a good game in any facet for the Bruins. Even when they went up 3-1, coach Chris Tok wasn't happy with how they were playing. 

Tok said he felt like the Bruins were playing a preseason game.

To me, it felt like a good team that was coming off four emotionally and physically draining games against its biggest rival. Austin never got in a rhtyhm. It led 3-1, then gave up three goals in less than six minutes to fall behind 4-3 with 3:53 to go in the first. Austin tied the score three times, but never took the lead back.

It felt somewhat like the WCHA Final Five championship game a couple years ago, when a very good Minnesota team led North Dakota 3-0, then gave up six unanswered goals -- five in the third period -- to lose 6-3. That night, everything North Dakota threw at the net was going in. That's how things felt Friday night at Riverside. Everything Minot threw at the net was going in.

In 2012, Minnesota came back the following week and took it to North Dakota, 5-1, in the West Regional championship game to earn a berth in the Frozen Four. I have a feeling that's how this Austin team will respond, by going out and playing the way it has the past two weeks. We'll see, I guess, what this team is made of.

"We were playing pretty badly to be up 3-1," Tok said. "Then, what happened, we're playing bad, get up 3-1, then we were worse and we saw what happened after that."

Tok said the Bruins had a good week of practice, but he was a bit concerned that after taking three of four from Bismarck over the previous two weeks, to win the division by a point, Austin might not be sharp.

"My biggest fear that I had coming in was that it was going to be a letdown because of the drive that we had to win the title and how intense those four games were against Bismarck," Tok said. "I was worried that guys were battered and bruised, so guys would go out and protect themselves, and looking at all the stick checks, that's what we did. I don't if there's anybody in our room that needs an ice back after tonight's game. Last week, every guy on the team was using ice bags because of blocking shots and running into guys and sticking their nose in there and competing. Tonight I didn't see too many guys use ice bags and I don't think we needed many."

Yes, the Bruins lost, but they scored six goals and put 39 shots on net.

My guess is we see a lineup change or two for tonight's Game 2, but I'd bet my next paycheck that Lehr -- unless he slips in the parking lot and breaks his leg or something -- will start in goal. He's going to want to backstop this team to three wins in the next four games and he has certainly earned that right. 

Don't be shocked if No. 31 -- and the defensive corps in front of him -- has a big game in Game 2. 

AROUND THE NAHL

* In the other NAHL Central Divison semifinal series, Bismarck went on the road and beat Aberdeen 4-2, thanks to a hat trick from Evan Giesler and 29 saves from Aaron Nelson. The Bobcats' victory means both lower-seeded teams in the division went on the road and won their playoff openers. That's something that Tok has said all season -- anyone in this division can beat anyone on a given night. 

* No. 3-seeded Wenatchee (Wash.) beat the No. 2 seed Minnesota Wilderness 3-0 in Game 1 of a Midwest Division semifinal series. Wenatchee was the only other lower-seeded team in the NAHL to win on Friday. 

* Port Huron, the regular season North Division champ, already has a 2-0 lead in its best-of-5 division semifinal series against Johnstown. Port Huron has won a pair of one-goal games -- including a 4-3 victory in OT on Friday -- to take control of that series.

* No. 2 Michigan beat No. 3 Janesville 4-2 in Game 1 of the other North Division semifinal series.

* In the South Division semifinals, top-seeded Amarillo beat Wichita Falls 4-2 and No. 2 Topeka beat No. 3 Rio Grande Valley 3-1 in the first games of their best-of-5 series.

 

April 03, 2014

Junior Hockey | Bruins primed for postseason push; Folin receives praise

Posted by: Feldman

Here's a lesson for young hockey players — young athletes in any sport — everywhere: Listen to your coaches. They usually know what they're talking about.

Back in September, Austin Bruins head coach Chris Tok and assistant Jamie Huffman insisted to me that the 2013-14 Bruins would be a good team, even though they turned over more than half of their roster from last season's division title team. They weren't going to blow anyone out, they weren't going to be able to flip a switch and blow away an opponent like last year's team could. But, the coaches said, there is talent here. It won't be easy, but they'll be a good team by the end of the season.

I wasn't sure. Not because I didn't believe the Bruins could do it; I figured, with the teams that Bismarck and Aberdeen had constructed, and the fact that all five teams in the Central seem to play one another tough, it would be difficult for Austin to earn enough points in the first half of the season (while players were still learning roles and what is expected of them) to be in position for another division title in March.

Guess what? It's the end of the regular season. It wasn't easy. The Bruins have talent. They've become a very good team. And they're the NAHL Central Division champions for a second consecutive season.

Austin is also playing as well as it has all season. I talked to two coaches and four players earlier this week before a practice and you could sense something different in them after sweeping two games at Bismarck last weekend.

Bismarck has been a pain in the backside for this Bruins team over the past couple years. It hasn't seemed to matter how well either team is playing or where they're playing, the Bobcats flat-out give the Bruins fits.

But something clicked last weekend — the Bruins coaches urged the players to go out and take the division title, don't count on Aberdeen losing at Wenatchee and handing the Bs the title (Aberdeen swept at Wenatchee, so, yes, the Bruins certainly earned it).

Tok referred to some of the great battles Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders had in the 1980s. The Islanders swept the Oilers in 1983 to win their fourth consecutive Cup. The following year, the Oilers had learned their lesson. They turned things around and took it to the Islanders, winning the Cup in five games.

No one is predicting the Bruins will take it to the Bobcats if the teams meet in the playoffs this year — Austin isn't looking past a pesky Minot team in the first round, while Bismarck is the No. 3 seed and will have its hands more than full against No. 2 Aberdeen — but the message is clear from the coaching staff: This Bruins team needs to not worry about anything other than itself. It needs to play its game, pay the price physically and take the postseason division championship.

I casually asked a couple of veteran players, off the record, about their plans for next season. They weren't having any of that question. It's all about now, about beating Minot and advancing in the postseason.

"The Islanders beat the Oilers the first time they met," Tok said. "The next time, after the ('84 finals), Gretzky looked around the Oilers locker room and every guy had two or three ice bags on. They took it. They earned it. You could take a picture of that locker room and see the guys, they'd earned it, just by the dedication and the pain that they've suffered to win.
"Our guys understand that. We told them after the game last Saturday, there are no more rookies in here. You've been here, you've played a 60-game schedule. We all understand, the guy next to you, he's not a rookie. We're all guys who understand what it takes to win and that's what we're going to do."

LOTS OF CLOSE ONES

Here's a stat that says a lot about this Bruins team: It has played in 35 games — more than half of its 60-game schedule — decided by one or two goals. They are 23-11-1 in those games (and 40-19-1 overall).

In other words, the Bs don't get rattled if the game is tight late in the third period.

"We had a lot of those close games, we're used to it, we know what we need to do in those situations," second-year Bruins defenseman Jake Arroyo said. "We know, every period counts, every shift counts in the playoffs, so it's good that we know how to play in those close situations."

Tok has seen this team develop patience and poise as the season has gone on. And the Bruins have battled so many injuries, that you won't see anyone look around and wonder what the heck they're supposed to do if they're not on the ice with their usual linemates or defensive partner. Actually, with all the injuries this team has had, there's really no such thing as "usual linemates or defensive partners."

"Our guys, we don't panic," Tok said. "We believe in what we have to do on the ice. We talk about the process to get where we want to go. A great example was Friday night in Bismarck. We played a great first period, outshot them 15-5 and we're down 1-0. We walked in the (locker) room, talked about one adjustment — not really even an adjustment, just a reminder — sure enough, came out in the second, got more pucks on the net and took the lead.
"That's the way it is. It was like 'just stick to it here, let's get it done,' and they did."

HIGH PRAISE FOR FOLIN

The Bruins coaching staff, players (current and former) and fans were quite thrilled on Monday to see that former Bs defenseman and two-year UMass-Lowell standout Christian Folin had signed a two-year contract with the Minnesota Wild.

To show that Folin enjoyed his time in Austin, he told Wild.com that he always had an idea that he'd like to return to Minnesota to play.

• Here is a story I wrote for Tuesday's paper that includes reaction on Twitter from some of Folin's former Bruins teammates. (Notice that current Bruin Austin Nelson is among them; kinda crazy to think that Folin was a Bruin two years ago today, and today he skated in Chicago with the Wild).

• Here is NAHL.com's story on the Folin signing.

• Here is the Minnesota Wild's "Pondcast" interview with Folin.

I asked coach Tok what qualities pro teams saw in Folin that made them believe he can play at the NHL level. His answer boiled down to one thing: work ethic.

"He's a guy who was always out there trying to improve his game," Tok said. "He wasn't always playing a rebound game with the goalies or something. He was always working on his shot, working on picking up pucks in transition, always working to get better.
"It's the same with (current Bruin) Guillaume Leclerc (who, coincidentally is committed to UMass-Lowell). You watch after practice, he's always by himself working on his individual skills to make himself better.
"I go back to a kid that we coached (in the USHL) who's playing in the NHL, Joe Pavelski. It was the same thing every practice with him: 'coach, can we do this,' or 'coach, can we do this.' It was always 'coach, coach, coach...' when they're asking to do it, as a coach, it's like, yeah, no problem."

NEW FORMAT FOR ROBERTSON CUP

In recent seasons, NAHL teams that won their first two playoff series advanced to the Robertson Cup, the NAHL's equivalent of the Frozen Four.

The four postseason division winners would play three days of round-robin play, then the two teams with the best records would advance to the national championship game on the fourth day of the Cup finals.

This season, the round robin play has been eliminated, as has the neutral-ice setting.

The last four teams remaining in the NAHL playoffs will be re-seeded based on the league's regular season standings (so, if all four regular-season division champs advance to the Robertson Cup playoffs, Austin would be the No. 3 seed.)

The No. 4 seed will play at the No. 1 seed and the No. 3 seed will play at the No. 2 seed, both in best 2-out of-3 series, with all three games (if necessary) being played on the higher seed's home ice.

The same goes for the Robertson Cup finals. The team with the highest seed will play host to a best 2-out of-3 series for the national championship.

BRUINS-TAUROS, HEAD-TO-HEAD

Let's take a look at the Austin-Minot first-round matchup:

GOALIES
Minot
: Brandon Wildung (14-7-3, 2.44 GAA, .918 save pct.) and Merrick Madsen (10-16-0, 2.75, .904). Neither Wildung, a Mercyhurst commit, or Madsen, who is headed to Harvard, have played in an NAHL playoff game. That lack of playoff experience could be a factor. The Tauros also have one of the worst penalty kills in the league, ranking No. 19 at 81.8 percent.
Austin: Nick Lehr (35-13-1, 1.84, .932) is in his third season with the Bs and his third trip to the postseason. He was 4-2-0 with a 1.90 GAA and a .942 save pct. in last year's playoffs. The Minnesota recruit has been clutch in close games this year and never panics.
Advantage: Bruins.

FORWARDS
Minot: The Tauros beefed up their scoring ability greatly in early February when they traded for Michael Louria, a UMass-Lowell commit who finished 10th in the league in scoring with 52 points. But beyond Louria, no Tauros player averages even a half-point per game. In fact, their second leading scorer is defenseman Jon Lizotte and another blue-liner, Scott Dornbrock, is tied for third on the team. If the Tauros are going to have a chance, they'll have to keep the score low and get some production from their blue line.
Austin: The Bruins have the second-leading scorer in the NAHL on their team and, somehow, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound Jay Dickman seems to go about his business quietly. The Bemidji State recruit isn't flashy, but he has a great, hard shot that has produced 28 goals (to go along with his 36 assists, for 64 points) this season. On the exact opposite end of the spectrum is Guillaume Leclerc, the Bs second-leading scorer (21-25—46 in 54 games), a 5-8, 165-pound waterbug from France. Opposing teams seem to be more preoccupied with knocking him down than stopping him from scoring. Leclerc gets up every time — and he has taken some clean, hard hits this season — and usually makes the opponent pay. Add in guys like Luke Dietsch, Drew Anderson and Niko Hildenbrand ... I could go down the line to every forward on the roster. They all know their roles and embrace them.
Advantage: Austin.

DEFENSEMEN
Minot: As mentioned, Lizotte and Dornbrock are solid contributors offensively, but the Tauros struggle mightily on the penalty kill. It'll be crucial for them to stay out of the box. The addition of Grand Rapids native Jordan Stejskal in a trade in late January gave the Tauros a bit more grit or "nasty" on the blue line; he has 86 penalty minutes this season, in addition to 11 points. The Tauros' blue-liners will have to find a way to chip in offensively while not doing too much on the offensive end.
Austin: This may be the position group that has improved the most as a whole since the start of the season. Veterans Josh Bretner, Jake Arroyo and Kody Reuter have anchored the group, while newcomers Cory Dunn and Charlie Manley have settled into their roles nicely. The addition of Lucas Kohls — at 6-3, 195 — has given the Bs some more size and physicality on the back-end, too. Kohls moved back to defense when Eli May moved up to a forward spot and it's a switch the coaching staff seems to love.
Advantage: Austin.

THE PREDICTION
Austin has earned the No. 1 seed and is playing some of its best hockey of the season. That said, Minot isn't an easy team to play against, especially up there. I think either Wildung or Madsen steals one from them, but they won't steal three. Bruins in 4.

March 27, 2014

Austin Bruins getting healthy at right time

Posted by: Feldman

The Austin Bruins have two games remaining in their regular season and eight days until the North American Hockey League playoffs begin.

Now is a good time for a team that has battled injuries all year to get healthy.

It's been weeks -- months, maybe -- since the Bs have had their full 23-man roster available on game day. I'm guessing coaches Chris Tok, Jamie Huffman and Keaton Wolf would probably share their meals with Bruiser the bear for a month if they could make three healthy scratches per night this weekend at Bismarck, where Austin will close its regular season (7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

There have been times this season when the Bruins haven't been able to dress a full 20-player lineup. That shouldn't be the case this weekend, though the Bs will likely only have 21 of their 23 men avaialable. Tok said a couple of players sustained injuries last weekend against Bismarck during a split at Riverside Arena, and have tried to skate this week, but haven't been able to go full-speed.

Ideally, this would be the time of year where some Bruins players could sit out a game or two and be more rested for the start of the postseason. The Bruins wrapped up the regular season division title with a few weeks to go in the regular season last year and were able to do that with players such as A.J. Reid, Brandon Wahlin and Cody Dixon.

Austin doesn't have the luxury of resting guys this season, as it will likely battle with Aberdeen down to the final night for the division title. The Bruins have a one-point lead in the standings (77-76), so an Austin win on Friday, coupled with an Aberdeen loss at Wenatchee (Wash.) would give the Bruins the title.

Still, though, like I said before, the Bruins will likely only have 21 players available this weekend, and that's because they will get Sam Kauppila, Trey Dodd and Austin Nelson back from injuries.

Those three guys will be a big shot in the arm to Austin's offense.

Dodd has 17 points in 43 games, but has only played in four games since Valentine's Day.

Kauppila, who played for the NAHL U18 team at the Top Prospects Tournament, has 15 points in 41 games, but has been hasn't played since a 2-1 victory against Aberdeen on Feb. 21.

NELSON HAS PERSEVERED

As for Nelson, it's nice to see him back in the lineup and I know the Bruins' coaching staff is happy for him personally and happy for themselves that he's returning. Nelson has 15 points in 38 games this season, but he has sat out the last two weekends after he thought his Bruins career might be over.

Nelson, a third-year Bruin, missed 48 games last season after tearing the labrum in his right hip (Rochester hockey fans may remember this is the same injury that essentially ended Century grad Alex Kangas' college career with the Gophers).

During the Bruins' game at Minot on March 7, Nelson thought he had suffered the same injury to his other hip. He spent a long day-and-a-half thinking his time with the Bruins might be done. On Monday, March 9 -- his 21st birthday -- Nelson saw a doctor and, this time, received good news: He didn't suffer a torn labrum.

It was not only a relief for Nelson, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward from Hastings, but it was a relief for the Bruins coaching staff (and probably fans, too). Nelson will now get to end his junior hockey career on the ice, instead of in the stands.

"Austin has had some difficult times over the past couple of years, but he has really stuck with it," Tok said.

I was somewhat surprised to see that Nelson was back this season, not because I didn't think he could play at this level, but because it would be easy to understand why someone with his injury history would want to call it a career.

"I was a little surprised (at the start of the season) when he said he wanted to come back," Tok said. "I said 'great, we'd love to have you.' He's a great kid, on and off the ice."

Nelson has played in 103 games as a Bruin, with 20 goals and 21 assists.

FRONT-TO-BACK, BACK-TO-FRONT

With all of the injuries the Bruins have battled this season, the coaching staff has had to juggle forward lines and defensive pairs more than they would have liked. 

Sometimes those changes stick, sometimes they don't.

At least a couple of those changes have worked out quite well -- the move of Eli May from defense to forward, and the move of Lucas Kohls from forward to defense. May gives the Bruins another gritty forward who will get in the corners on the forecheck and win puck battles. He can also shift back to the point on the power play, as well as play on the penalty kill. Kohls has 33 points this season, but he gives Austin a big body on the blue line (he's 6-3, 195) who has a lot of offensive skill.

"Eli brings a lot to the table up front," Tok said. "He gets in there and creates turnovers. We had him in more of a defensive/checking-line role, but he created so many turnovers that we put him up with some other guys."

Tok said he anticipates May and Kohls staying in their current roles throughout the playoffs.

THIS WEEKEND

Austin (38-19-1, 77 pts.) at Bismarck (31-22-5, 67 pts.) -- Friday and Saturday, 7:15 p.m., VFW Sports Center, Bismarck

Bruins notes: Austin's power play has struggled all season. The Bruins are ranked No. 22 in the NAHL, converting at an 11.3 percent clip. ... The Bruins, however, have one of the top penalty-kills in the league. They are ranked No. 2 in the NAHL, killing 90.5 percent of their penalties. ... Austin has played 58 games this season and 17 have been decided by just one goal. The Bruins, though, have gone to OT just five times this year. They have two OT wins and are 2-1 in shootouts.

Bobcats notes: Bismarck is locked into the No. 3 spot in the Central Division playoffs and will face either Austin or Aberdeen in the opening round. ... The Bobcats are in the middle of the pack in the NAHL in both power-play (14.3 pct., No. 15 overall) and penalty kill (85.0 pct., No. 11 overall). ... Bismarck G Aaron Nelson, a MSU Mankato commit, has three shutouts this season, all against Austin (including a 1-0 blanking last Saturday in Austin). ... D Nate Repensky is the team's leading scorer with 49 points. He is committed to Yale.

Path to No. 1: There are many ways Austin could win its second consecutive division title. The simplest would be to beat Bismarck twice this weekend. NAHL teams get two points for a win, one for a tie. Four points are up for grabs this weekend for first-place Austin and second-place Aberdeen (which plays at Wenatchee at 9:05 p.m. CDT Friday and Saturday). The Bruins need to earn one more point than Aberdeen this weekend to win the division title outright.

March 14, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Divisional semifinals edition

PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show returns today as we wrap up last weekend's big series sweep over the Twin Cities Northern Lights and look ahead at this weekend's divisional semifinal series against the Dells Ducks.

The Ice Hawks play the Ducks at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Lake Delton, Wis. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Rochester Recreation Center. If necessary, Game 3 would be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday back in Lake Delton.

ENJOY THE SHOW!

PhersyAndFatisShow31414

 

March 07, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Back from the dead

PHERSY: It's been far too long, but the Phersy and Fatis Show ... is BACK!

It's a long one. We had a lot of catching up to do. But we look back at the last few weeks and then look ahead at this weekend's playoff series against the Twin Cities Northern Lights.

The Ice Hawks hit the road tonight for a 7 p.m. tilt against the Lights at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. Saturday night, it's time to pack the Rec Center for a 7 p.m. game ... it will be an elimination game!

If necessary, Game 3 would be at 11 a.m. Sunday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.

Enjoy the show ... it's a long one!!

PhersyAndFatisShow3614

 

January 24, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Heart and soul edition

PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show returns today with news about coach's health, a "new" player and this weekend's game. The Ice Hawks host the Steele County Blades at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Enjoy the show!

PhersyAndFatis12414

 

January 17, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Needing wins edition

PHERSY: The Ice Hawks had a rough go of it last weekend, but they'll look to get back on track with games Friday and Saturday.

Tonight they're in Owatonna to take on the Steele County Blades. Saturday they return home to host the Hudson Crusaders. Four points would look very nice...

Enjoy the show!!!

PhersyandFatis2014

 

January 10, 2014

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: We're back, finally

PHERSY: The Phersy and Fatis Show finally returns today. After a little time off, we're back in full swing, and there's plenty of good news to talk about this week.

The Ice Hawks return to action at 7 tonight at the Rec Center against the Twin Cities Northern Lights. They'll hit the road at 7:30 p.m. Saturday for a game against the Owls up in Isanti.

Enjoy the show!

PhersyandFatis11014

 

December 06, 2013

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Back on track edition

PHERSY: Well, we really are back with the Phersy and Fatis Show. Sorry about the lapse last week, but my wife and I welcomed our first son, Jack Joseph, into the world.

Now, with a little less sleep under my belt, I'm back in action.

The Ice Hawks had a solid weekend last weekend, picking up three points. They'll have a chance to pick up four more points this weekend.

Tonight they're home against the Hudson Crusaders, and then Sunday night they hit the road for a game in Owatonna against the Steele County Blades.

Enjoy the show!

PhersyAndFatisShow120813

 

November 22, 2013

PHERSY AND FATIS SHOW: Better late than never

PHERSY: Sorry for the late show. Coach and I couldn't meet until today, and then I've been running around since. But, better late than never ...

Ice Hawks host the Lakers at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Enjoy!

PhersyAndFatisShowNov22