Robertson Cup Finals Preview: Austin Bruins
May 14, 2015
The Austin Bruins are trying to secure their place in history by learning from the lessons of the past. The Bruins have been a model of stability and consistency on the ice in their five years in the NAHL, but that was taken to a new level last year with their trip to the Robertson Cup Finals. After traveling all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska, armed with a veteran-laden team gave the Ice Dogs all they could handle in Game 1, but fell in overtime. With the air out of their balloon, Game 2 did not go as planned and the Bruins fell just short of the championship. A year later, the Bruins find themselves back in the Finals. They are the first team to be in back-to-back finals since the 2010 and 2011 Fairbanks Ice Dogs. In 2010, the Ice Dogs lost in the Robertson Cup Finals to Bismarck, but a year later they beat the Michigan Warriors. The Bruins hope they can follow in the Ice Dogs footsteps.
The Bruins have done it with a team first concept and most of all, hard work. The comments that consistently emanate from opposing coaches and those that watch the Bruins on a consistent basis is that they are a team that wants to constantly outwork their opponent, and it shows. The Bruins like to jumped out early and then outwork their opponent. They are 6-0 in the playoffs when scoring first and their 1st periods are very productive. Austin also has the top-ranked power play in the playoffs, but it will be matched-up against one of the best penalty kills in the league. Lastly, there aren’t too many places in the NAHL that get as loud and hockey-crazy with a sold out crowd than Riverside Arena in Austin, Minnesota. Just ask anyone who has been to a Pink in the Rink game. It is very likely the atmosphere this weekend will be the same and give the Bruins a reason for an extra boost and advantage when all other things may be equal.
Here is a look at why the Bruins could win the cup:
Offense: Through 11 playoff games, 17 different players have scored a goal for Austin, an incredible number and a testament to their depth of putting pucks in the net. After recording 11 goals and 41 points during the regular season, Bruins forward Nico Sturm has taken it to another stratosphere in the playoffs. The German-born forward is tied for 2nd in NAHL playoff scoring with 13 points, including seven goals, which also includes three game-winners. Trevor Boyd, who led the Bruins in scoring during the regular season, has 11 points and has the perfect game for playoff hockey with a combination of scoring, grit and physicality. The Bruins also rely on forward Luke Dietsch, who is second on the team with five goals in the playoffs, but is especially good at scoring on the power play. Of the 10 Bruins power play goals in the playoffs, Dietsch has three of them. Alex Pettersson is also another forward who has come up big, scoring the overtime winner against Lone Star. However, Pettersson, who led the Bruins in penalty minutes during the regular season, has been disciplined in the playoffs, understanding his team needs him for his scoring touch and offensive prowess. Because of the scoring balance and depth and because the power play is effective, the Bruins have a real advantage, especially in a two-game series.
Defense: Coon Rapids, Minnesota native Ian Scheid leads the Bruins defensive corps. The Central Division Defenseman of the Year is tops among NAHL defensemen in playoff scoring. Partner Liam Feeney is right behind Scheid’s eight points with seven points. The rest of the defense has size and is steady. The Bruins are only giving up just a little more than 23 shots per game in the playoffs and the defense is a big reason why. Jake Arroyo and Cory Dunn are two of the five players that were on the team last season and went through the experience of playing in a Robertson Cup Final. Look for them to be the lockerroom leaders and expressing to the rest of the group that this time will be different.
Goaltending: The question at the goaltending position is not who has the ability to backstop the team to a cup, because both Jake Kielly and Evan Smith have proven to be effective in getting the team to this point, but more so who will get the start in goal? So far, the playoffs have been goaltending by committee between the two and although Kielly has the better numbers in goals against average and save percentage and has played just slightly more, it is Smith that has a perfect 4-0 record and hasn’t lost a game yet in the playoffs. Smith’s combined record in the regular season and the playoffs is 16-1-2, meaning he has only lost one game in regulation since joining the team mid-season. The last time Smith lost a game was February 13th. Meanwhile, Kielly hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a game since February 21st. Either way, both bode well for the Bruins and it will be a tough decision for head coach Chris Tok heading into the series.
The Bruins win if: They stick together as a team and continue to work hard. Momentum is a huge factor in the playoffs and the Bruins style lends itself well to seizing control of a game with their early play in front of what will be a very pro-Austin crowd. Like the Wilderness, the Bruins are perfect in the playoffs when scoring first, so if they can jump ahead early and force their work ethic on the Wilderness, then the prospects of success are good. Ultimately, it may boil down to a match-up of special teams. With both Austin and Minnesota not allowing many shots on goal, a premium will be put on any man-advantage chance(s) a team is going to get in the series. If the Bruins can feed off the crown and control the momentum of the series and stay in the game, the chances of keeping a lead or making a comeback if they are down, are good.
Coaches Quote: “Our team has had a lot of resiliency this season. No matter what obstacle has been put in front of us, we have managed to deal with it and push through despite not having a team that was heavy with veterans like last season. I think there were enough guys from last year’s team to help emphasize the importance of trying to get back to the Robertson Cup and win it. We started talking about the Robertson Cup in the lockerroom right after we lost the series in Fairbanks last year. It allows everyone to be better prepared for what we have gone through to this point and what we are about to go through this weekend. Preparation leads to success and it is a testament to how everyone has bought into what we are trying to do. I think everyone is fired up about hosting the event. We could be here another 10 years and never go through something like this again and the entire organization is excited and it should be a great experience. I think having an all-Minnesota final adds to the intrigue because this state loves hockey and it will truly be one of those rare events that people can look back on. I think the atmosphere will be great and I think it is an experience that our fans and the city of Austin deserves because their support has been tremendous. We know the Wilderness well and have a lot respect for them. Our games have been very physical and almost like guerilla warfare. They have been clean and not dirty, but it is 60 minutes of a pure battle. They transition really well and don’t give up much, so we have to take advantage of our chances and try and strike quick.” –Chris Tok