Junior hockey: Bruins drop regular season finale, look ahead to playoffs
AUSTIN — One night on, one night off.
It’s been a common theme for the Austin Bruins, one that carried into the final weekend of the regular season.
After a dominant performance Friday, Austin allowed four first-period goals in a 6-2 North American Hockey League loss against the Bismarck Bobcats on Saturday at Riverside Arena.
“One of the battles we’ve been trying to overcome all year is our consistency,” Bruins defenseman and captain Lane Krenzen said, “... now we have to hit the reset button.”
The Bruins want to hit that button quickly, as one of the best teams in the NAHL — the Aberdeen Wings — awaits them in a best-of-5 Central Division semifinal series, which will begin this weekend at Aberdeen.
“Their forwards are probably some of the best in the league,” Krenzen said. “They’re very, very deep. They have guys who are not only skilled, fast and confident, but they play within their system.
“But it’s nothing we can’t handle. It doesn’t matter what anyone’s done up until now, you have to find a way to win three games before they do.”
The Bruins (32-22-6) have played well against the Wings (47-10-3) at times this season, but have struggled to earn victories. Austin went 1-5-2 against Aberdeen in the regular season, but suffered 5-0 and 5-1 losses at Aberdeen on the last weekend of March.
“They do a lot of little things well,” Bruins coach Steve Howard said of the Wings. “They’re an older team, they work hard, battle for pucks. When you get a chance to finish a check, you have to finish it. They finish every one of theirs and they’ve earned their bounces this year.”
The bounces went Bismarck’s way in Saturday’s regular-season finale, one night after the Bruins earned a 3-0 shutout.
The Bobcats scored four times in the first period, and never allowed Austin to capture the momentum. The back-breakers included a goal off a faceoff play in Austin’s end by Daniel Chladek that gave Bismarck a 2-1 lead midway through the period, then a power-play goal with 25 seconds to go in the first by Sam Malinski.
“We just got away from what we did well (Friday) night,” Howard said. “(Friday) we got pucks deep, got in on the forecheck and created turnovers. (Saturday) we answered their first goal, but then they got their second one and we took a dumb penalty late in the period (and they scored). That one’s always a killer.”
One silver lining to the tough first period for the Bruins was the play of goalie Tyler Shea, a 17-year-old from Valencia, Calif., who played the final two periods and stopped 15 of the 17 shots he faced. Shea was with the Bruins in fall camp — and made the camp all-star game — before returning to play with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks U18 team of the Tier I Elite League.
Shea, who signed a tender to play for the Bruins in 2019-20, arrived in Austin late Saturday afternoon, after traveling all day. His team finished its run in the Tier I national tournament on Friday.
“I thought he did great,” Howard said. “Can’t fault him for either goal; they were breakdowns where, there’s nothing he can do on the tap-in goal, then we let a guy walk right in and shoot for the upper corner from the slot.
“He’s gonna be a great goalie and we’re happy we tendered him for next year.”
BOBCATS 6, BRUINS 2
Bismarck 4 0 2 — 6
Austin 1 1 0 — 2
First period — 1. B, George Grannis 5 (Hunter Olson 4, Carl Fish 8) 3:21. 2. A, Jared Christy 21 (Dante Zapata 22, Josef Mysak 10) 5:30. 3. B, Daniel Chladek 18 (Alex Pollock 29, Sam Malinski 30) 10:33. 4. B, Ryan Taylor 12 (Willy Stauber 16, Blaine Warnert 1) 16:05. 5. B, Malinski 15 (Austin Jouppi 28, Adam Stacho 31) 19:35 (pp). Second period — 6. A, Reggie Millette 4 (Devon Fields 5) 9:13. Third period — 7. B, Chladek 19 (Pollock 30, Stauber 17) 4:54. 8. B, Andy Stoneman 11 (Jack Olsen 8) 17:30.
Shots on goal — B, 9-7-10—26; A, 5-9-5—19. Goalies — B, John Roberts (W, 27-17-5; 19 shots-17 saves); A, Kyle McClellan (20:00; L, 22-16-5; 9 shots-5 saves); Tyler Shea (ND; 17 shots-15 saves). Power-play opportunities — B, 1-for-2; A, 0-for-3. Penalties — B, 3-6 minutes; A, 2-4 minutes.