Although they haven’t experienced as much on-ice success as they’d hoped coming into the season, that hasn’t stopped the Austin Bruins from celebrating an enthusiastic first year in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
And while mathematically still alive for a postseason berth - the Bruins are 17 points behind third-place Bismarck and trail fourth-place Alexandria by 14 with nine games to play - Austin has its focus one thing heading into the homestretch: continued improvement.
“Our guys have gotten better and are becoming more aware of the little things necessary to win games at this level,” said Bruins head coach Chris Tok, whose team is a respectable 6-4 in its last 10 contests.
Look no further than the play of forward Charlie Adams, who is garnering some Division I college interest, according to Tok, and his linemates, Jordan Greenberg and Alex Tesenky.
All three have elevated their games, says Tok, with Adams leading the charge with four goals and six assists over that 10-game stretch. The 18-year-old from White Bear Lake, Minn., sits atop the Bruins’ scoring chart with 38 points (17 goals) through 47 games.
Forward Mike Adamowicz, a 20-year-old from Chandler, Ariz., has also shown marked improvement since the beginning of the season.
“He’s stepped up his game,” said Tok. “He’s playing complete hockey starting with being a good, physical forechecker and penalty-kill guy and he’s been putting up some points lately.”
As he has all season, goaltender Keegan Asmundson, holding a 2.69 goals-against average and a stellar .921 save percentage in 33 appearances, continues to prove dependable between the pipes.
“Keegan’s put us in a position to win just about every one of our last 10 games,” Tok said of the 20-year-old from Mayville, N.D. “He’s really been playing consistent hockey for us.”
And while being situated in fifth place in the division in March isn’t exactly what Tok and his staff had anticipated, the team is eager to build off of the experience for next season and beyond.
“We’ve definitely learned a lot of things with all of the ‘firsts’ going on,” said the coach. “For one, you definitely need some veterans your team can lean on during the tough times; you’re always going to have new guys facing different adversities and you need good leaders to carry your team through them.”
The Bruins’ 129 goals scored - the fewest in the Central Division and fourth fewest in the entire NAHL - is also an area the coaching staff plans to address over the offseason.
“You need a couple players who have the ability to just score goals,” said Tok.
As for the future, Tok reports that defenseman Christian Folin, a 20-year-old from Sweden, is also getting some Division I interest, but, says the coach, “If he returns he’ll be a huge cornerstone on our D core.”
But despite the team’s record on the ice, there have been plenty of positives off it, including last month’s “Paint the Rink Pink” event, which drew a sellout crowd of 1,900 at Riverside Arena for the Bruins’ game against Coulee Region while raising $22,370 for breast cancer awareness.
“The community has been tremendous in their support of our organization,” said Tok. “Attendance has been on the rise here after that (Paint the Rink Pink) event and our meet-and-greet with the players at the local mall recently had a steady stream of fans getting autographs.”
And Tok expects that excitement around town to blossom even more.
“We’re looking forward to having a long, lasting relationship with the fans and community of Austin,” he said.
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ABERDEEN WINGS: In last place in the division, Aberdeen dropped all three of its games last weekend, with forwards Cory Ward, a 17-year-old from Las Vegas, and CJ Pullar, a 20-year-old from Elk River, Minn., scoring the only two goals. With six games left on the schedule, the Wings’ only game this week is in Bismarck on Thursday.
ALEXANDRIA BLIZZARD: With its three victories last weekend, the fourth-place Blizzard is now only three points behind third-place Bismarck with nine regular-season games remaining. Forward Alex Altenbernd (three goals, three assists) and goaltender Jake Williams (three wins, two of which were shutouts) were recognized as the Central Division and Goaltender of the Week, respectively, for their performances. Alexandria hosts Owatonna on Saturday before playing another home game in Buffalo, Minn., against Austin on Sunday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: The Bobcats will celebrate their second annual St. Baldrick’s Game on Friday against Austin. The St. Baldrick’s Foundation centers around volunteers earning pledges to shave their heads - usually on St. Patrick’s Day - in the name of cancer research. In the spirit of the event, numerous Bobcat players, coaches and staffers will get their heads shaved during intermission at the game. “One of the primary goals of Bobcat Hockey from Day 1 has been to become as active as possible in the Bismarck-Mandan community and make a difference whenever we can,” said Bobcats owner Thom Brigl, who had his head shaved as part of 2010’s inaugural St. Baldrick’s Game. “We couldn’t be happier to partner with Basin Electric and St. Baldrick’s again this year. It’s a great cause, a great event and a great time and we can’t wait to do it again (on Friday).”
COULEE REGION CHILL: With its two-game split against Owatonna last weekend, the Chill locked up the division’s second playoff berth. Air Force recruit Mike McDonald was the hero in Saturday’s 4-3 triumph as 20-year-old from Mahtomedi, Minn., connected for the game-winning goal in overtime. The Chill welcomes its Wisconsin rival, the Janesville Jets, to town for a two-game series beginning on Friday.
OWATONNA EXPRESS: The Express picked up three points in its two-game series with Coulee Region last weekend and still holds the top spot in the division with 67 points - two more than the second-place Chill. Forward John Haeg, a 20-year-old from Lakeville, Minn., picked up two assists in Friday’s 4-3 win, including one on Jordan Krebsbach’s game-winning goal. Owatonna travels to Alexandria on Saturday for its only game of the weekend.