by John Peterson
‘A’ is for Austin. ‘A’ is for adversity. And because of an overtime deflection from a veteran named Anderson, ‘A’ is for Alaska. That’s where the Austin Bruins (48-22-2) are headed for the Robertson Cup Finals after a thrilling back-and-forth 4-3 victory over the Topeka RoadRunners (46-18-7) Sunday at Landon Arena in Topeka in the finale of a best-of-three National Semifinal series.
After 22 combined goals were scored in the first two games of the series, both teams’ defenses stole the show in the first period, preventing any significant scoring chances. Austin edged Topeka in shots 7-6 in the scoreless stanza heading into the first intermission.
The RoadRunners garnered a few more scoring chances than the Bruins in the second period, scoring the first goal of the game on an Austin turnover in the Bruins’ zone. After a Bruins defenseman fanned on a clearing attempt, Jasen Fernsler (Charlotte, MI) capitalized with a quick snap shot over the shoulder of Austin goalie Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN). Austin tied the game at 13:53 of the middle frame, when Luke Dietsch (St. Paul, MN) centered a pass through the slot for Niko Hildenbrand (Vacaville, CA). Hildenbrand tapped the one-timer past Runners goaltender PJ Bridges (Waterford, MI) to make it 1-1 going into the third.
For the fourth playoff game in a row, Bruins rookie Brian Bachnak (Riverview, MI) scored a big goal, this time doing so at 7:58 of the third to give Austin a 2-1 lead. Tomas Nechala (Bratislava, Slovakia) answered with a blast into the top shelf off of a rush to tie the game 3-3. Austin’s Joe Schuldt (Minnetonka, MN) gave the Bruins the lead again at 14:48. After Schuldt took the initial shot in the right circle, the rebound bounced out to the slot, and while falling to the ice, Schuldt put away the second effort on the backhand. The RoadRunners were given two power-plays in the final five minutes of the third period, and Tyler Poulsen (Arvada, CO) scored on the second one with 1:27 left to send the game into overtime.
Early in the extra period, Yu Hikosaka (Tokyo, Japan) was called for tripping, and for the first time in the series, Austin scored on the power-play to win it. Jay Dickman (Shoreview, MN) set up Drew Anderson (Rochester, MN) for a deflection in front at 2:07 of the fourth period. Anderson, who won the season opener in overtime back at the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Showcase in September, provided the heroics to send the Bruins to the National Championship.
The Robertson Cup Finals will be next weekend in Fairbanks, Alaska. The best-of-three series will feature two teams that went undefeated at the Showcase to start the season, split four games against each other in the regular season, and won their respective divisions in the regular season. The Bruins leave for Alaska on Wednesday. The Robertson Cup Finals schedule has not been released at the end of Sunday, but Games 1, 2 and 3 (if necessary) can be seen on fasthockey.com and heard on 1480AM KAUS in Austin.