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PLAYOFF PREVEW: Bruins and Minot face off for fourth year in a row

Although they may be seen as an underdog this time around, the Austin Bruins are heading to the Robertson Cup Playoffs for the fifth year in a row. Their first round opponent in the Divisional Semifinals is the Minot Minotauros – the team they took down in the Central Cup Championship Round a year ago, and a squad that has a rich playoff history with the B’s. Although the ‘Tauros finished with 14 more points than the Bruins, claiming the #2 seed and home ice advantage, Austin and Minot evenly split the regular season series with four wins, three losses, and one OT loss a piece. The Bruins will be looking to knock Minot out of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, while Bismarck battles Brookings in the other half of the Central Division Semis. Here is your all-inclusive first round playoff preview!

Photo credit: Don Boesen, Boesen Photography

 

THE SCHEDULE:

Game #

AWAY

HOME

DATE

TIME

VENUE

1

Austin

Minot

Fri, Apr 15

7:35pm

Maysa Arena

2

Austin

Minot

Sat, Apr 16

7:35pm

Maysa Arena

3

Minot

Austin

Fri, Apr 22

7:05pm

Riverside Arena

4 (if nec)

Minot

Austin

Sat, Apr 23

7:05pm

Riverside Arena

5 (if nec)

Austin

Minot

Mon, Apr 25

7:05pm

Maysa Arena

 

SEASON SERIES RECAP:

October 16th-17th, 2015 – Riverside Arena:

Minot swept the opening series of the season, coming into Austin red hot – winners of six in a row. On Friday, the Bruins had 1-0 and 2-1 leads when Austin Rueschhoff and Gilbert Gabor scored power play goals around a Johnny Walker tally, but Minot tied the game with an extra attacker in the final 90 seconds. It took less than a minute of 3 on 3 OT for Minot’s James LaDouce to end the game. The following night saw the ‘Tauros jump out to a 4-0 lead, powered by three second period tallies – two of the four from Walker. Jacob Paganelli and Rueschhoff scored in the 3rd to make it respectable, but Minot extended their streak to eight games.

OCT 16, 2015: Minot 3/OT @ Austin 2    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS
OCT 17, 2017: Minot 4 @ Austin 2    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS

 

October 30th-31st, 2015 – Maysa Arena:

The Bruins returned the favor in their first trip of the year to Minot, winning both games on Halloween weekend. Friday was a tight one, with only three combined goals. Justin Misiak got the only tally of the first period, and Gilbert Gabor scored shorthanded just 14 seconds into the 2nd period. Minot’s Zach Bross scored a power play goal before the midway point of the 2nd period to make it 2-1 but Kris Carlson made the score hold up, stopping 23 of 24 shots. On Saturday night, Jade Miller scored two goals and added an assist as Carlson posted a 26 save shutout in an impressive 5-0 Halloween victory.

OCT 30, 2015: Austin 2 @ Minot 1    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS
OCT 31, 2015: Austin 5 @ Minot 0    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS

 

November 27th-28th, 2015 – Riverside Arena:

In their third series before the calendar turned to 2016, the B’s and Tauros split a post-Thanksgiving, Military Appreciation weekend. On Friday, the Bruins shell-shocked Minot goaltender Jon Flakne, with two goals in the first 2:15 of the opening period from Misiak and Miller. Marcus Karlstrom would score his only goal of the season late in the period, to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead that was more than enough for an eventual 3-1 win. The following night, Minot took a 2-0 lead on goals by Jack Murphy and Jacob Gammicchia, but Paganelli and Misiak answered back for the Bruins. Derek Frentz scored the game-winner with just under six minutes left to earn the split for the Minotauros.

NOV 27, 2015: Minot 1 @ Austin 3    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS
NOV 28, 2015: Minot 3 @ Austin 2    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS

 

April 1st-2nd, 2016 – Maysa Arena:

With over four months between meetings, the Bruins saw a new-look Minot squad with a new starting goalie (Gunner Rivers) and two new top scorers (Matt Jennings and Max Reisinger). Rivers would make 30 saves in a 3-2 Minot win on Friday. Jennings and Murphy scored the first two for Minot with Rueschhoff and Evan Cholak answering with early 2nd period goals. As was the case in the previous battle, Frentz would get the game winner in the 3rd. The final game of the season between Austin and Minot required overtime after Rueschhoff scored a pair in regulation, answered by ‘Tauro goals from Zach Bross and Reisinger. Jan Stefka was the OT hero, taking a pass from Jade Miller at 3:28 of the 3 on 3, splitting the season series straight down the middle.

APR 1, 2016: Austin 2 @ Minot 3    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS
APR 2, 2016: Austin 3/OT @ Minot 2    GAME RECAP | HIGHLIGHTS

 

HEAD TO HEAD NOTABLES:

AUS – Austin Rueschhoff: Finishing the regular season on a tear, scoring five goals in his last five games, Rueschhoff had a strong season against Minot, with 6 goals in eight games. Three of those came in the final head-to-head series at Maysa Arena just two weeks ago.

AUS – Jacob Paganelli: Paganelli averaged over a point per game against the ‘Tauros this year, with 3 goals and 5 assists in 7 games.

AUS – Kris Carlson: Carlson started all eight head-to-head meetings this season, posting a goals-against-average of 2.25 and a save percentage of .922. He never allowed more than four goals in a game, posting one shutout (October 31st), and twice holding Minot to a single goal. (October 30th and November 7th)

MNT – James LaDouce: Top 6 in league scoring among defensemen, LaDouce had 7 points in 8 games against the B’s this season – 1 goal and 6 assists. The goal was an overtime game winner in the first meeting of the season on October 16th at Riverside.

MNT – Lucas Murray: Until the ‘Tauros acquired Gunner Rivers in a January trade with Odessa, Murray and Jon Flakne shared playing time – and Murray started over half of the season head-to-head battles with Austin. In his 5 starts, he went 2-1-1 with a 2.55 GAA and a save percentage of .894. It’s likely the Bruins will see Rivers, who won his only start against them this year on April 1st.

 

HOW THEY MATCH UP:

OFFENSE: Only six-hundredths of a goal separated the Bruins and Minotauros in terms of their season average per-game. At 3.08 goals/game, Minot ranked 8th in the NAHL. The Bruins 3.02 mark was good for 13th. Christian Mohs, Max Reisinger, and Matt Jennings all finished with 40-point campaigns (Reisinger and Jennings playing parts of the season with other teams). Overall, the Minot goal column is very balanced, with no 20 goal scorers, but 11 players in double figures. The Bruins had two 20 goal scorers: Jade Miller, who finished one shy of 30 (team record) and Gilbert Gabor, who needed just two points to hit 60 on the year. Miller and Gabor, along with Jacob Paganelli, Austin Rueschhoff, and Justin Misiak accounted for most of the Austin goal scoring this season, with Evan Cholak and Zach Kennedy being the notable secondary scorers.

DEFENSE: Minot has a slight edge in the goals-allowed department, surrendering only 2.63/game opposed to Austin’s 2.80 mark. That comes out to 10 fewer goals allowed for the season in favor of the ‘Tauros. In terms of D-scoring, Minot has a huge advantage, getting 20 point seasons from four defensemen. (LaDouce, Brandt, Dittel, Nathe) Only Marcus Karlstrom and Paul O’Connor had more than 20 for the Bruins, who got just 10 goals from blue-liners on the season (as opposed to Minot’s 23).

GOALTENDING: Gunner Rivers has been fantastic since being acquired from Odessa on January 25th, going 10-2-1 with a 1.77 GAA and a .944 SV%. For the Bruins, Kris Carlson carried most of the load, starting 12 of the final 13 regular season games. Overall, he posted a 2.54 GAA, a .916 SV%, and was named to the Central Division Top Prospects team, where he won both games at the Tournament.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Bruins have the edge on both sides of the man-advantage with a stronger power play and penalty kill. Austin’s power play clipped at 20.4% – 5th in the NAHL, while their PK was 7th overall at 84.2%. The Bruins owned the 2nd best home kill in the league. Minot’s power play (15.6%) ranked 15th overall (out of 22 teams) and their penalty kill sat 18th at an even 80% and was dead last on the road. It should be noted that the Bruins took the 3rd most minor penalties in the league this season (375) while Minot (308) was in the middle of the pack.

 

PLAYOFF HISTORY:

This meeting marks the fourth season in a row that the Bruins and ‘Tauros will cross paths in the Central Division playoffs, with the Bruins winning each of the first three series. The 2013 and 2014 battles were in the semifinal round like this season, with the Bruins prevailing in four games each time. Last season, the teams met in the Central Cup Finals, with the Bruins squeezing out a decisive game five win at Riverside.

 

THE REST OF THE FIELD:

CENTRAL: The other side of the Central Division bracket features #1 Bismarck against #4 Brookings. The Blizzard finished the regular season strong, winning six of their last eight to sneak into the last playoff spot. Bismarck held off Minot for the top spot by two points.

EAST: In a division with only four teams this season, all four qualify for the playoffs. #1 Aston hosts #4 Wilkes-Barre Scranton while #2 New Jersey hosts #3 Johnstown.

MIDWEST: #1 overall seed Fairbanks will have their hands full with a Coulee Region Chill squad that Bruins fans know all too well. The Chill have been one of the hottest teams in the NAHL since the calendar turned to 2016. #2 Janesville will host the defending champs, the #3 Wilderness.

SOUTH: #1 Wichita Falls hosts #4 Odessa, who makes their first Robertson Cup Playoff appearance since 2012, while #2 Lone Star battles #3 Topeka. Interestingly, those two just split a series to finish the regular season

The winners of each divisional playoff tournament meet at Braemar Arena in Edina, MN on May 12-15th for the best of three Robertson Cup Finals Semifinal Rounds, followed by a one game winner take all championship.

 

HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAMES:

Tickets for games 3 and 4 are on sale now at Bruins vendors: Hy Vee, Jim’s Marketplace, Games People Play, and the Holiday Inn and Austin Conference Center, for the unchanged price of $11 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. Purchased tickets can be used at any Central Division game (this round or potentially next).

All games in the series will be broadcast with live audio and video on FASTHockey.com and on the radio at AM 1480 KAUS in Austin and online at myaustinminnesota.com. Broadcast time begins 10 minutes prior to puck drop. Fans are encouraged to watch the road games at B&J Bar and Grill, the official home of Bruins away games. Social media game updates will be provided on Facebook and Twitter.