by John Peterson
With five returning players from the 2013-14 Central Division Championship team, the Austin Bruins needed every second of a deciding Game 5 to defeat the Minot Minotauros 4-3 Monday at Riverside Arena in Austin to repeat as champions.
Austin scored the all-important first goal, when Luke Dietsch (St. Paul, MN) jammed home a loose puck out of a net-mouth scramble. But Minot had an answer, when Tim Athley (Vaxjo, Sweden) scooped up the puck in front of the net after it was blocked by a Bruins defenseman, and Athley slid the goal through the five-hole of Bruins goalie Jake Kielly (Eden Prairie, MN). The score was even after one, as were the shots on goal. Kielly and Tauros goalie Atte Tolvanen (Vihti, Finland) each stopped 10 shots in the opening frame.
The Bruins exploded for three goals in the second period. Austin captain Brian Bachnak (Riverview, MI) assisted on all three. First, Bachnak finished off a long shift with a shot from the half-wall that Nico Sturm (Augsburg, Germany) tipped in past Tolvanen to give Austin a 2-1 lead. With the Bruins on a power play midway through the period, Bachnak squeezed a pass from behind the net at the near post to Josh Wilkins (Cary, NC) on the far doorstep, and Wilkins beat the sliding goaltender.
The play of the game turned out to be, to the surprise of many, the game winner which opened the lead to 4-1. Bachnak leapt to keep a Minot clearing attempt in the zone at the blue line, and then fired a shot off the pad of Tolvanen that was kicked back out. Trevor Boyd (Muskegon, MI) picked up the rebound and made a move before sliding the puck in behind the Tauros backstop.
Austin’s second intermission lead looked insurmountable, but Minot wasn’t done. The Tauros responded with two quick ones early in the third to cut the Bruins lead to one. First Nick Monfils (Oshkosh, WI) banked the puck off the back of Kielly from beneath the goal line and in. Then after a point shot was deflected on goal, Johnny Walker (Phoenix, AZ) collected the rebound off of Kielly’s pad and tucked away the third Tauros goal.
Minot finished the game on a power play for the final 85 seconds of regulation, and pulled Tolvanen for the extra attacker. The final 30 seconds of play was chaos, as the Tauros narrowly missed tying the game three different times with desperation shots that skipped wide of the post behind Kielly. Jon Lizotte’s (Grand Forks, ND) final spin-o-rama from the left point slid inches wide at the final horn.
Austin now heads to N. Richland Hills, TX to face the South Division Champions, the Lone Star Brahmas in the Robertson Cup Semifinals. The best-of-three series will be played next weekend with dates and times TBD. The victor will face the winner of #1 Janesville and #4 Minnesota Wilderness in the other semifinal for the Robertson Cup the following weekend.