24 in 24 Series: Austin Bruins
August 19, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Head Coach: Kyle Grabowski (2nd year)
2015-16 record: 29-27-4, 62 pts. (3rd in the Central Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Gilbert Gabor (58 pts.)
2016 Playoffs: Lost in the Central Division Finals to Bismarck, 3 games to 2
2016-17 Division: Central
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 21st vs. Topeka RoadRunners
Home opener: Friday, October 14th vs. Bismarck Bobcats
The Austin Bruins saved their best hockey for last and almost made a return appearance to the Robertson Cup Championship for a third straight season. The team had lost in the Finals both in 2014 to Fairbanks and 2015 to the Minnesota Wilderness. Under the watch of new head coach Kyle Grabowski, the Bruins had a see-saw regular season and finished two games over the .500 mark.
They had 10 players with Bruins ties make NCAA commitments during the season and found themselves a legit scorer in forward Jade Miller (University of Minnesota-Duluth) and a go-to goalie in Kris Carlson (Princeton University). As the playoffs approached, the Bruins faced a familiar foe in the Minot Minotauros in the opening round. The Bruins dispatched Minot in four games to set up a showdown with Bismarck in the Central Finals. After pushing things to a 5th and decisive game after falling down 0-2, the Bruins fell short, but finished the year playing their best hockey of the season.
Grabowski said that he learned quite a few things last year during his first season, which helped him move forward and develop a plan this year that would get the Bruins back to the Robertson Cup. “I think we needed much more depth and offensive contribution from our defensemen, so that was something we tried to address in the off-season. Every single night in the Central Division is a 60-minute game and with the addition of the Minnesota Wilderness, I fell like there is even more parity and depth among our opposition,” said Grabowski. Grabowski also received a three-year extension on his contract back in March.
Grabowski said that the fan base in Austin also motivates the team. “We have a great community with passionate fans. Riverside Arena is a true home ice advantage and I think there is a certain feeling from us that we want to win and be successful there.” Off the ice, the Bruins have been consistently one of the top teams in the NAHL when it comes to their charitable donations and causes. In addition to their annual Pink the Rink Night, which raised more than $35,000, the Bruins also formed their own Foundation, which was in addition to the several other intiatives, which raised thousands of dollars.
The Bruins won’t open the season until the NAHL Showcase, where they will face Topeka in their opening game. Grabowski said that he is excited for the annual pilgrimage to the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine to get things going. “The Showcase is all about the experience and the people. Your get to see all of the other coaches, all of the scouts and it is just a great week of hockey. The best part for me is getting to hang out and watch hockey with your peers. For the players, I think it is about playing different teams and getting to show their stuff in front of hundreds of scouts. It is a unique experience,” said Grabowski.
Grabowski also said that the commitments play a big role in helping his team be successful in the NAHL. “The number of commitments is very exciting for all of us and we had some guys commit to some real quality NCAA Division I programs. It is a tribute to the skill level, the coaching and the way the league exposes our players,” said Grabowski. “It also is a great recruiting tool because those numbers don’t lie. It also helps and is a testament to the relationships we have with the NCAA schools. The skill level of the NAHL has gone up each year I have been in the league. It has the right balance of young, up-and-coming talent, combined with older, more developed and experienced guys and that makes for a good product to watch. It is good hockey for schools to watch and for players to develop in.”
“I think we all have the same goals when it comes to winning and success on the ice, but we want to be driven by the process. If we can make each day about a certain process we want to follow then the other stuff should take care of itself,” said Grabowski. “We want to be a puck possession team and we want to be tough to play against. Playing fast and with a purpose both offensively and defensively is something we place a priority on,” said Grabowski.
Next in the 24 in 24 series: Bismarck Bobcats