23 in 23 Series: Austin Bruins
August 16, 2017
The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 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: Steve Howard (1st year)
2016-17 record: 24-27-9, 57 pts. (6th in the Central Division)
2016-17 leading scorer: Justin Misiak (60 pts.)
2017 Playoffs: Did no qualify
2017-18 Division: Central
First regular season game: Thursday, September 21st vs. Northeast Generals
Home opener: Saturday, September 30th vs. Minnesota Wilderness
Last season did not go how the Austin Bruins had planned. After opening the season with a fairly respectable run through September, October and November, the Bruins stumbled in the second half of the season and missed out on the NAHL playoffs. It marked the first time since the Bruins inaugural season in 2010-11, that the team would not make the post-season. The Bruins had been Robertson Cup Runner-Up in both 2014 and 2015 and were a Central Division Finalist in 2016.
The season did have its bright spots, namely the 12 NCAA commitments, including eight NCAA Division I commitments that the Bruins had during the season, which included leading scorer Justin Misiak and his commitment to Michigan Tech.
Following the conclusion of the season, the winds of change swept through Austin and the team parted ways with head coach Kyle Grabowski. In early May, the Bruins found their new head coach in Steve Howard. Howard had spent the past three seasons as the assistant coach for the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks and prior to that, Howard was the head coach for the Flint Junior Generals of the NA3HL and saw great success, coaching them to a two-year regular season record of 69-21-4. He led the Generals to an Eastern Division Championship and an appearance in the USA Hockey Tier III National Junior Tournament and was named NA3HL Coach of the Year in 2013-14.
“For me to be a head coach in the NAHL is a dream come true. I think the experience that I had in the NA3HL, as well as, the USHL prepared me for this opportunity,” said Howard. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to work for the Bruins, an organization that has had a lot of success in recent years. Austin is the perfect junior hockey town and the atmosphere at Riverside Arena is always exciting.”
Howard said that one of the main goals for his squad this year is to get the Bruins back to National prominence and get the team back to the Robertson Cup Finals. “There is a very fine line between winning and losing in this league and the league has 23 very good head coaches, so each night is a battle. I am happy with the players we have coming to training camp and I think it is a group that will allow us to be successful,” said Howard.
Howard said that his structure for the 2017-18 Bruins starts with team unity. “We want to be tough to play against and take advantage of playing in a tough atmosphere at Riverside Arena. I think we want to be in our opponents faces and play with some grit, but we should have a lot of team speed, so combine that with being a physical, in your face team, should make things pretty exciting for this year.”
After experiencing coaching in the NA3HL and the USHL, Howard said that the ladder of development has never been better for players in the NAHL. “When you look at the number of 300 NCAA commitments, the developmental ladder under USA Hockey is very established and in a very good place. The NAHL is one of the top leagues in the world and going forward, we are going to make it a priority to keep those commitments going and a top priority each season.”
The 2017-18 version of the Bruins will feature returning forward Travis Kothenbeutel, who not only is an NA3HL alumni, but also made a recent NCAA Division I commitment to the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Howard said that Kothenbeutel will be the backbone and leader of this year’s team. “Having a guy like Travis back is huge for the team because he is a very guy that I can rely heavily on and someone who has been in many situations as a player. I think the ultimate goal is to put the Bruins back on the map. Whether is it myself as a coach or any of the players, we come into the situation this year with something to prove. We want to make the most of the opportunity and then have the ability to keep moving up that ladder.”
Next up in the 23 in 23 series: Bismarck Bobcats