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PLAYOFF PREVIEW: BRUINS AND BOBCATS PLAY FOR CENTRAL CUP

Photo credit: Don Boesen, Boesen Photography

Since the Bruins first entered the NAHL in in 2010, the Central Division postseason title has belonged to only two teams: the Bruins and the Bismarck Bobcats. 2016 isn’t going to be any different. After each advancing through the semifinals in four games, the Bruins and ‘Cats meet for the fourth time in five seasons for the Central Cup. The Bruins took the most recent battle in 2014, but Bismarck held the title the previous five years, twice topping Austin in the process. Bismarck finished the regular season atop the Central, but like Minot – the Bruins played them to an even season series, going 4-4-0. Unlike the match-up with the ‘Tauros, home ice advantage was important in this particular head-to-head, with each team winning three of four in their building. It all starts Friday in Bismarck, the same place where the Bruins’ season began.

 

THE SCHEDULE:

Game #

AWAY

HOME

DATE

TIME

VENUE

1

Austin

Bismarck

Fri, Apr 29

7:15pm

VFW Sports Center

2

Austin

Bismarck

Sat, Apr 30

7:15pm

VFW Sports Center

3

Bismarck

Austin

Fri, May 6

7:05pm

Riverside Arena

4 (if nec)

Bismarck

Austin

Sat, May 7

7:05pm

Riverside Arena

5 (if nec)

Austin

Bismarck

Mon, May 9

7:15pm

VFW Sports Center

 

SEASON SERIES RECAP:

September 18th-19th, 2015 – VFW Sports Center:

In what was the first Junior hockey game for much of the Bruins roster, they nearly took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on Friday after Logan Haskins scored at 6:30 of the opening period, but a deflection goal by Travis Wood – who would prove to be a thorn in the Bruins’ side all season – tied the game at 19:43. The Bobcats took over in the second period with a pair of goals by Aaron Herdt and another by Harrison Aide. Griff Slightam and Jan Stefka brought the game back to 4-3 early in the 3rd, but Bismarck would win 6-3, and shut the Bruins out 3-0 the following night to complete the sweep.

November 13th-14th, 2015 – VFW Sports Center:

The Bruins surrendered 51 shots in the first game of the series, but had multiple leads in the game, as AJ Drobot, Gilbert Gabor, and Jade Miller had the B’s ahead 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2. After Drobot scored his 2nd of the game to tie it up at 4 in the 3rd, Alex Strand scored twice in the final nine minutes to complete a wacky 6-4 Bobcat victory. The Bruins bounced back the following night, scoring the lone goal of the 3rd period to break a 2-2 tie, as Gabor converted 3:20 into the final frame for the first Austin win of the head-to-head.

November 20th-21st, 2015 – Riverside Arena:

Just a week later, the two teams met in Austin and played a pair of blowouts – one in each direction. The Bruins got a 7-3 win on the Friday, thanks to a five goal second period outburst, including three on the power play. Gabor once again led the charge, scoring twice. The following night saw the Bruins suffer their largest margin of defeat all season, when Bismarck hung an 8-spot in an 8-1 victory. Solag Bakich was the offensive star for Bismarck, scoring his first two NAHL goals.

March 11th-12th, 2016 – Riverside Arena:

Kris Carlson stole the show in the final regular season series, making 59 saves on 60 total shots, while the Bruins claimed a pair of extra-time wins. Jacob Paganelli scored the only goal for either team on Friday, netting the OT winner at 3:08 of 3-on-3. On Saturday, Harrison Aide and Travis Kothenbeutel traded goals in regulation before the Bruins prevailed in their only shootout of the entire season – getting goals from Paganelli and Evan Cholak to complete the weekend sweep.

 

HEAD TO HEAD NOTABLES:

AUS – Gilbert Gabor: The Bruins leading scorer was big in the season series with Bismarck, scoring four goals and adding an assist over the eight head-to-heads. Unfortunately for Austin, Gabor is unlikely to suit up for the series after suffering a leg injury in game 4 against Minot.

AUS – Justin Misiak: Misiak had a goal and four assists and was a +2 during the season series against the Bobcasts.

AUS – Kris Carlson: Supported by his 59 of 60 save performance in mid-March, Carlson notched a 4-2-0 record against Bismarck with a 2.82 GAA and a .920 SV%. He wasn’t on the roster for the first two meetings to open the season.

BIS – Willie Brown: Brown led a group of four forwards that torched the Bruins offensively. He put up 2 goals and 8 assists, inflated by a 5 assist game on opening night.

BIS – Harrison Aide: Aide scored five goals, adding three assists in the eight games between the Bruins and Bobcats.

BIS – Travis Wood: Wood scored 1/3 of his goals over the course of the season against the Bruins, with 4 goals and 4 assists in eight games. He’ll miss game one due to suspension. An honorable mention goes to Aaron Herdt, who also put up eight points (in just 7 games) against the Bruins this year.

 

HOW THEY MATCH UP:

OFFENSE: The Bobcats finished the regular season with the identical amount of goals scored (185) as the Minot Minotauros, so the Bruins will face a similar attack in Bismarck. Like the Bruins, the ‘Cats have a fairly top heavy group of goal scoring forwards, with Alex Strand, Jared Pike, and Willie Brown all in the 20-goal club. Aaron Herdt, who finished the year with 19 goals was their leading point scorer, with 52. Harrison Aide and Travis Wood complete a group of six with 40 or more points. Brown leads the way in terms of playoff scoring with seven points, while Aide has four goals to lead the charge. Bruins captain Jade Miller is leading the NAHL in playoff points, with 9 – and at least one in all four games so far. He’s scored a goal in three straight. Gabor, Paganelli, and Misiak follow the leader, right on par with the regular season.

DEFENSE: Only the Fairbanks Ice Dogs allowed fewer goals (116) than Bismarck’s 133 during the regular season. Eight shutout victories (one against the Bruins) led the NAHL. Patrik Demel is an assist machine, racking up 30 on the regular season – 14 on the power play, a top five league mark among defensemen in both categories. On the Bruins’ side, Paul O’Connor has been a surprising offensive contributor on the blue line, scoring goals in games one and four of the semifinal round against Minot – two-thirds of his entire regular season output. O’Connor did have five assists over the regular season series with Bismarck.

GOALTENDING: Kris Carlson and Hunter Shepard both represented the Central Division at the NAHL Top Prospects Showcase and dueled impressively in the March 11-12th series at Riverside. Shepard was arguably the best goaltender in the league this past season, leading the NAHL in games played (50), wins (34) and shutouts (8), while finishing 2nd in goals-against-average at 1.90. Carlson had four shutouts to his name, while also finishing top five in saves and minutes played.

SPECIAL TEAMS: It’s nearly a dead-heat in the special teams department, with the Bruins and Bobcats separated by one rank on both power play and penalty kill efficiency. The Bruins’ 5th overall power play clipped at 20.4% with the Bismarck unit coming in at 19.2%, good for 6th. On the kill, Bismarck holds a miniscule edge of 84.5% to Austin’s 84.2%. Bismarck was a much more disciplined team during the regular season, taking about five fewer penalty minutes per game than the Bruins.

 

PLAYOFF HISTORY:

It’s hard to imagine a more extensive playoff history than that of the Bruins and Minot, but the Bobcats manage to top it, with the three consecutive Central Division Finals battles from 2012-14. Bismarck claimed the 2012 and 2013 Central Cup with 3-1 series victories before a memorable back and forth series culminated with the Bruins taking down the ‘Cats in five on the way to their first Robertson Cup playoff appearance in 2014. The 2014-15 postseason was the first in Bruins playoff history that did not involve a meeting with the Bobcats.

 

THE REST OF THE FIELD:

EAST: Both series ended in sweeps, with #1 Aston taking down #4 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and #3 Johnstown pulling off the upset of #2 New Jersey.

MIDWEST: #1 Fairbanks rattled off three wins in a row after getting blown out, 6-1 by #4 Coulee Region on home ice in game one. #3 Minnesota Wilderness also took the next three after losing game one, but on the road to #2 Janesville, who’s season was ended by the same team for the second straight year.

SOUTH: After falling behind 3-0 in the first period of game one against #4 Odessa, the #1 Wichita Falls Wildcats rallied to win that, and the next two to complete the sweep. On the other side, #3 Topeka won games two and four in overtime two knock off #2 Lone Star, in a battle of Robertson Cup opponents from the prior two Bruins’ playoff runs.

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 game.

 

HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAMES:

Tickets for games 3 and 4 (if necessary) 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 for either game. In addition, unused tickets from round one can be used at either game.

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.