A den rebuiltPublished 8:01am Sunday, September 15, 2013
Things are going to be very different for the Austin Bruins this season.
The Bruins are coming off a season that saw them finish 46-15-8 overall and win the NAHL Central Division title, but their season came ended in the NAHL finals in loss to Bismarck for the second straight season. The Bruins, who are entering their fourth year as a franchise, hope to return to the playoffs, but they’ll have to do it with an entirely different squad than they had last year.
The Bruins bring back just eight players from last season, and most of the team’s leading scorers have moved on. Don’t expect a rebuilding year as Austin has brought in five players with previous NAHL experience to go along with its 13 rookies.
“It’s not quite like that first year,” Bruins head coach Chris Tok said. “That first year was really overwhelming, and you had to teach every single guy everything that you expected. We’ve had some really good leadership from (Jay) Dickman, Nick (Lehr) and (Josh) Bretner.”
Lehr, a goalie from Roseville, Minn., is in his third year with the Bruins and has stopped 92 percent of the shots he’s seen in his NAHL career.
“Last year was a big step for me taking the starting position,” Lehr said. “This year it’s pretty much going to be the same thing. I want to come in, take over and make sure the guys are confident with me.”
Lehr stepped his game up in the postseason last season as he stopped 94 percent of the shots he saw and went 4-2 in the playoffs. Tok is hopes for another big year from Lehr.
“Defensemen and forwards make mistakes, and Nick’s capable of making that big save to keep the score even,” Tok said. “He lets guys know to play their game and work hard, and he’ll be there to back them up.”
The Bruins will have a more diverse schedule this season as they’ll have games with a couple of new NAHL teams in Minnesota – the Wilderness and the Magicians.
The NAHL Central will still include Bismarck, Brookings, Minot and Aberdeen.
“We want to make the playoffs, and we want to do that by winning the Central Division,” Tok said. “It’s going to be very difficult, because Bismarck, Aberdeen and Minot are all much improved.”
The Bruins will start their season later than usual this year as the NAHL Showcase will be held in Blaine, Minn. Sept. 18 through Sept. 21. Austin will host Brookings in its home opener Oct. 4 at 7:15 p.m.
“There are a lot of new faces, and guys are getting to know each other. We have time to figure things out,” Lehr said.