With their only back-to-back victories coming on Oct. 16 and 22, the Austin Bruins, searching for some semblance of consistency, wanted nothing more than a weekend sweep to kick-start the first-year team’s season.
They got it last weekend, cooling off red-hot Aberdeen, which was 7-2-1 in its previous 10 games, with a pair of wins on the Wings’ home ice.
“That definitely gives our players confidence that we can win on any given night,” said Bruins head coach Chris Tok, whose team improved to 6-8 on the season. “We’re learning what it takes to pull out two points, and that was a big step in the right direction for us.”
Forward Chase McDonald, a 19-year-old from Salt Lake City, connected for the game-winning goal and an assist in Friday’s 3-1 win, while goaltender Keegan Asmundson turned aside 26 shots.
The next night, four different players lit the lamp for Austin and Asmundson again stood tall in goal making 36 saves - he came up especially big on a nearly-two-minute-long 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period - to pick up his second win in as many nights.
Asmundson has been a rock between Austin’s pipes all season. Thanks to his performance in Aberdeen, the 20-year-old from Mayville, N.D., upped his record to 6-5 to go along with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage.
“Keegan’s a great character kid,” said Tok. “He’s continued to work hard and simplify his movement in the net to make himself bigger. The guys love playing in front of him.”
With points in his last four games (two goals and two assists to go along with a plus-5 rating during that stretch), forward Jack Walsh, a 19-year-old from Mahtomedi, Minn., has made significant strides of late.
The same can be said for forwards Alex Tesensky and Charlie Adams, the team’s leading scorers with 10 points apiece, and Jordan Greenberg.
McDonald, a key cog on the Bruins’ penalty-killing unit, also earned the praise of his coach.
“We have a lot of guys who’ve turned the corner and have become solid contributors to our team’s success,” said Tok. “And we have some very important role players who’re doing a great job, too.”
Still mired in the Central Division cellar two points behind fifth-place Alexandria, the Bruins know full well they have a lot of work to do. They are confident, however, they have the talent and fortitude to work their way up the tightly contested standings.
“We’re progressing pretty well,” Tok assessed. “Our conditioning has improved greatly and we’re definitely heading in the right direction.”
And they’ll hope to stick with their winning ways this coming weekend, as they travel to Owatonna on Thursday before bussing to Coulee Region for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday.
“This division is very well spread out,” Tok assessed. “You have to show up and play every night or else you’ll be in trouble.”
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ABERDEEN WINGS: With another goal and two more assists last weekend, 17-year-old forward Cory Ward, from Las Vegas, now has points in his last eight games (seven goals, 10 assists).
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: Forward Steve Zierke, 20, was the top point-getter in the Blizzard’s 8-6 victory over Coulee Region on Friday. The Brooklyn Park, Minn., native picked two goals and two assists in the win.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Netminder Ryan Faragher, a Dartmouth College recruit, stopped 56 of 61 Owatonna shots - he also turned back all five in Friday’s 3-2 shootout win - as the Bobcats skated two a two-game sweep. “Ryan’s been a difference-maker for us,” said head coach Layne Sedevie.
COULEE REGION CHILL: Goaltender Paul Moberg, a 19-year-old Top Prospects Tournament selection from Forest Lake, Minn., turned back all 22 shots he faced in the Chill’s 1-0 triumph over Alexandria on Saturday.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Forward Ben Persian, Owatonna’s leading scorer, picked up a goal and an assist in the Express’ 4-3 overtime loss to Bismarck on Saturday. The 19-year-old Air Force Academy recruit from Orono, Minn., has 19 points (12 goals) through 17 games.