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).