For the 10+ returning Bruins players, a trip to Bismarck is nothing new. The Bruins opened and closed the 2015-16 season there, many of them walking in wide-eyed, with no Junior hockey experience, and then walking out just a win short of a trip to the Robertson Cup Final Four. Many memories will fill the heads of the Bruins as they step inside VFW Sports Center on Friday night, the first of three regular season voyages to Bismarck as the Bruins and ‘Cats play a season high 12 times against one another. In two weeks’ time, they’ll open the Riverside schedule as well.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR –
New Faces, Old Places: Both the Bruins and ‘Cats lost major pieces of their respective 2015-16 runs. The Bobcats lost their top seven scorers (Aaron Herdt, Alex Strand, Harrison Aide, Jared Pike, Willie Brown, Travis Wood, and Patrik Demel) plus NAHL goaltender of the year Hunter Shepard. The Bruins say good-bye to Gilbert Gabor, Jade Miller, Jacob Paganelli, Austin Rueschhoff and Marcus Karlstrom (6 of their top 7 scorers) and star backstop Kris Carlson.
Zach Attack: One of the big storylines all season long between these two teams will be Zach Kennedy’s presence on the opposite roster. The two-year Bruin vet was dealt to Bismarck in the offseason and recently named the Bobcat captain. It would be foolish not to think Kennedy will have a major impact in this season series.
O from the D: Bruins head coach Kyle Grabowski made it clear that he wanted to see his blue liners chipping in with more offense this season, and through four Showcase games, they’ve already posited three goals – two from Dan Petrick, and one from Charlie Spetz (who had just one point in 19 Bruins games last season). In addition, every defenseman that played more than one game last week registered at least one point.
Ulrich the Bobcat: With Hunter Shepard on his way to join Jade Miller in a UMD Bulldog uniform, the Bobcats acquired Will Ulrich from the Magicians to lead their efforts between the pipes. Despite playing on a non-playoff team, Ulrich went 6-1-0 with a 1.85 GAA and a .948 SV% against the Bruins in 2015-16 while in a Magicians uniform. Can he carry that domination over to this season?
Home Ice Advantage: With their five game Central Division Finals series on top of eight regular season battles a year ago, home ice proved to be a huge factor for both the Bruins and Bobcats in their head to head. Each team won all but one home game, the Bruins going 5-1-0, and the Bobcats going 6-1-0. Two of the Bismarck losses in Austin took OT or the shootout, but the extreme majority of the time, the home team came out on top in 2015-16. All five playoff games saw home victories.
THE MATCHUP –
Central Division Standings:
Bruins (2-1-1): 5-4 L vs. TOP, 3-2 W/OT vs. FBX, 3-2 W vs. JHT, 3-2 OTL vs. LNS
Bobcats (1-3-0*): 4-1 L vs. LNS, 5-3 W vs. AST, 4-2 L vs. WFS, 3-2 L vs. MNM
*Bismarck defeated Aberdeen 7-2 on 9/17, prior to the NAHL Showcase
2015-16 Head to Head (Bismarck won 7-4-2):
09/18/15 Austin 3 at Bismarck 6
09/19/15 Austin 0 at Bismarck 3
11/13/15 Austin 4 at Bismarck 6
11/14/15 Austin 3 at Bismarck 2
11/20/15 Bismarck 3 at Austin 7
11/21/15 Bismarck 8 at Austin 1
03/11/16 Bismarck 0 at Austin 1/OT
03/12/16 Bismarck 1 at Austin 2/SO
04/29/16 Austin 1 at Bismarck 5 (G1)
04/30/16 Austin 1 at Bismarck 4 (G2)
05/06/16 Bismarck 0 at Austin 7 (G3)
05/07/16 Bismarck 2 at Austin 3 (G4)
05/09/16 Austin 0 at Bismarck 4 (G5)
HOW TO FOLLOW THE GAMES –
The puck drops on Friday and Saturday night from VFW Sports Center at 7:15 Central Time. Both games will be broadcast with live streaming video and audio on FASTHockey.com, with the “AWAY” feed carrying the Bruins broadcast. Hoot & Ole’s Tavern (105 11th St SE), the new official home of Bruins road games will also air the game both nights. FIND HOOT & OLE’S.
An audio only broadcast will be available for Saturday’s game only on AM 1480 KAUS in Austin as well as streaming online at myaustinminnesota.com. The broadcasts begin at 6:55. Intermission updates for all games can be found on Facebook and Twitter (@theaustinbruins).