Mired in a six-game losing streak stretching back to the second game of last month’s NAHL Showcase Tournament - their second game of the season - the Austin Bruins were salivating to find the win column.
That thirst was quenched on Saturday, as the Bruins knocked off the Alexandria Blizzard, 2-1, in a shootout.
“That was an big win for us for a number of reasons,” said Bruins head coach Chris Tok. “Most importantly, though, it lets our guys believe in themselves that they’re good enough to win at this level.”
As he has since Day 1, goaltender Keegan Asmundson delivered a phenomenal performance between the pipes against the Blizzard, stopping 50 of 51 shots in regulation and overtime - the only goal he allowed was during a 6-on-4 shorthanded situation - and four of six in the shootout.
Despite his 2-4 record, Asmundson, a 20-year-old from Mayville, N.D., who tended net the last two seasons for the North Iowa Outlaws, holds a respectable 2.77 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.
“Not only does he have both our wins, but he’s given us a chance to win in those four losses,” said Tok. “He’s been getting better each day, and is a team leader who’s respected heavily by the players.”
Defenseman Connor Quinn, a 19-year-old veteran from Wildwood, Mo., who played for the Owatonna Express last season and was voted the Bruins’ captain, along with Asmundson, has been Austin’s most steady and reliable defensemen, according to Tok, while James Dickinson, to the surprise of his coach, holds the team lead in scoring with five points (three goals).
“He’s not our most skilled guy, but he has a great work ethic and puts forth a consistent level of play every time he steps on the ice,” Tok said of the 18-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn.
The Bruins’ 2-6 record leaves them in the Central Division cellar with four points, three fewer than the fifth-place Aberdeen Wings. It’s not exactly what Tok had in mind to open the team’s inaugural season, but he knows there’s plenty of time to right the ship.
“What both us, as coaches, and the players have had to overcome is what it takes, day-to-day, to be successful in the NAHL,” said Tok, whose team travels to Owatonna this coming weekend for a pair of games. “We have to learn how to be a patient team and take what’s given instead of forcing the play.”
Tok has been adjusting to the NAHL himself. An assistant coach at Michigan Tech University (WCHA) the last four years, he’s worked to find the proper organizational balance needed to run a successful junior program.
“Being a first-year team has brought more challenges for us to overcome besides just coaching, but the staff has figured out how to divide our time between the on- and off-ice duties,” he said.
And despite the rocky start, Tok sees brighter days ahead, especially with a group of young men committed to getting better and doing what it takes to be successful.
“We have a bunch of guys who are eager to learn and get better,“ said Tok. “Now, the coaches have to do their part and make us all better.”
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ABERDEEN WINGS: Forward Cory Ward continues to find the back of the net. The 17-year-old from Las Vegas lit the lamp twice in the Wings’ 6-5 overtime loss to Owatonna on Saturday - his team-leading seventh and eighth goals of the season.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Williston, N.D., product Jordan Nelson, 18, picked up three goals as the Blizzard went 1-0-1 last weekend. The forward’s eight goals through 10 games leads the team.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Brett Bower, 20, came through with a goal and an assist in the Bobcats’ 4-3 loss to Aberdeen on Friday - Bismarck’s only game of the weekend. The forward from Madison, Wis., has two goals and two assists after 10 games.
COULEE REGION CHILL: With last weekend off, the Chill travels to Bismarck for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday. The two clubs are tied atop the division standings with 13 points.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Forward Lawrence Cornellier, 18, notched a pair of goals as the Express fashioned a 1-1 mark last weekend. Through 10 games, the Machesney Park, Ill., native has four goals for six points.