Six players chosen from first-place Bruins
by John Peterson
To the victors go the spoils. The Austin Bruins (28-11-1) successes through the first two-thirds of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) season has been rewarded. Six Bruins players were selected Tuesday to final rosters for the NAHL Top Prospects tournament, held February 17-18 at the Troy Sports Center in Troy, Michigan.
Drew Anderson (Rochester, MN), Josh Bretner (N. Potomac, MD), Jay Dickman (Shoreview, MN), Lucas Kohls (Forest Lake, MN) and Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN) will represent the Bruins on the Central Division team, and rookie Sam Kauppila (Gurnee, IL) will skate for the NAHL 18U Selects squad.
Because Austin finished in first place in the Central Division standings at the January 20th freeze date, Bruins Head Coach Chris Tok had the final say in determining the Central team roster, based on recommendations from the other coaches in the division. Tok will also coach Team Central at the Top Prospects tournament for the second straight year, and his assistant will be Bismarck Bobcats Head Coach Layne Sedevie.
Anderson started off his second season in Austin with a bang, scoring the game-winning goal in the Bruins 3-2 overtime win over Port Huron in the season opener at the NAHL Showcase September 18th. He has racked up six goals and 14 assists in 38 games this season and has meshed nicely on a line with Kauppila and Luke Dietsch (St. Paul, MN). Anderson played his high school hockey at nearby Rochester Century.
In his third year in the NAHL, Bretner is having a stellar season anchoring the Bruins blue line. He was named NAHL Defenseman of the Month in October, and is third in the league amongst defensemen in points with 28. Bretner has played in 138 games in his career, and his experience and leadership led to his selection as Austin’s captain.
Averaging a point per game last season in 55 games, Dickman was named to the All-Rookie 1st Team. This year, he’s making his case for All-NAHL 1st Team. After a strong showing at the Showcase, Dickman won NAHL Forward of the Month in September. He’s third in the league in points (43) and second in plus/minus (+25), while inching closer to the Bruins all-time scoring record. His 100 career points are second to Brandon Wahlin (118).
Kohls came to Austin this season after playing some time in both Kenai River and Kalamazoo last year. He ended last season in the now-defunct Jr. K-Wings organization, and has helped out significantly since latching on with the Bruins. Kohls has been able to play both forward and defense whenever asked, and has been a mainstay at the point on power-plays. His 13 goals are tied for second on the team.
Lehr has become the most decorated goaltender in Bruins history, with the most games played (100), wins (62), and saves (2,550). His 24 wins leads the NAHL this season, and he’s in the top five in the league in goals-against average (1.80) and save percentage (.934). Lehr posted a shutout streak in November that lasted 243 minutes (over four games), and his 18 consecutive starts was nothing short of impressive. It’s hard to argue Lehr’s candidacy for MVP at season’s end.
17-year-old Sam Kauppila made a normally-difficult transition to junior hockey look easy, stepping in and contributing in Austin right away. Since making the jump from the Chicago Mission team in the High Performance Hockey League (HPHL), Kauppila has brought to the Bruins a physical style of play with a scoring touch. He has 10 goals, including two short-handed in his first junior season.
Only players without college commitments were eligible for selection, as the annual tournament is great opportunity for players to showcase their talent in front of scouts from almost every NCAA Division I school and NHL team. Over 170 scouts were in attendance last year, and more than one third of the players who competed at last year’s Top Prospects received NCAA Division I opportunities.
The four NAHL divisional teams will compete against each other at the tournament, while the NAHL 18U Selects team will face an opponent not-yet announced on Monday, February 17th, before skating against USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP) under-17 team on Tuesday, February 18th.
Here’s a look at the 2014 NAHL Top Prospects schedule:
Monday, February 17th
1:00pm – North vs. South
3:30pm – Central vs. Midwest
6:00pm – NAHL 18U Selects vs. TBA
Tuesday, February 18th
1:00pm – Central vs. South
3:30pm – Midwest vs. North
6:00pm – NAHL 18U Selects vs. USNTDP U17 team
For more information on the NAHL Top Prospects tournament, or to view the final rosters, visit www.nahl.com/tpt