Bruins ready for Alaska: Austin embracing changes, rowdy crowd as it readies for Robertson Cup finals

Published 10:11 am Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Austin Bruins celebrate after Brian Bachnak gives them a 2-0 lead over Topeka early in the second period of Saturday night’s 6-4 win at the Kansas Expocentre. Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal

The Austin Bruins celebrate after Brian Bachnak gives them a 2-0 lead over Topeka early in the second period of Saturday night’s 6-4 win at the Kansas Expocentre. Chris Neal/The Capital-Journal

The Austin Bruins have been on a roller coaster ride this postseason, and it’s about to get even wilder.

Austin will play in the Robertson Cup Finals this Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday in a three-game series at Fairbanks, Alasak, to take on the Ice Dogs. Friday and Saturday’s games will start at 10:30 p.m. Central time and Sunday’s game would start at 8 p.m. Central time.

Austin’s trip to its first Robertson Cup finals in its four-year franchise history has been anything but routine. Of the 12 postseason games the Bruins have played in, four of them went to overtime and 11 of them were decided by two goals or less.

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The Bruins played in the longest game in NAHL history against Minot. After that series ended they found out they’d have to go the rest of the way without Guillaume Leclerc, the all NAHL rookie who had 21 goals and 25 assists this past season. Leclerc, a UMass-Lowell commit, had to leave the team due to a family emergency and won’t be back this weekend. Although Leclerc hasn’t been on the ice, he hasn’t been forgotten.

Fellow Bruins rookie Brian Bachnak, who has stepped up in Leclerc’s absence, speaks to Leclerc on a daily basis and said the team has rallied around winning the Cup for Leclerc.

“[Losing Leclerc] took a lot of life out of us, but we said family first and we’re going to keep playing,” Bachnak said. “Not only is [Leclerc] one of the top scorers on the team, but in the locker room and off the ice he brings so much energy. He’s always happy and he’s always having fun. He goes out to practice about thirty minutes early every day working hard and he makes you want to work harder and play harder.”

After scoring just 10 points in 48 games in the regular season, Bachnak has thrived in the postseason with seven points in 12 postseason games. Bachnack was voted Mr. Hockey in Michigan as he led Riverview High School to a third place finish in state last year.

Bruins defenseman Josh Bretner, who is third on the team with 40 points, was recently talking to his brother, who watches all of the Bruins games online. Bretner’s brother told him that Bachnak was the team’s best forward over the weekend and Bretner had to agree.

“He was right,” Bretner said. “It just kind of clicked for [Bachnak]. The good thing about our system is that it’s not just two or three guys. Everyone has the opportunity to score and when Bachnak gets a chance to score, we trust him to bury it.”

Austin head coach Chris Tok said that Bachnak’s time was coming, he just had to stay patient.

“Brian has been playing a lot better. He was a goal scorer in high school, and it’s just taken him a little while to get adjusted to how he can succeed at this level,” Tok said. “He’s kind of a playoff built player. His game is built for the playoffs. He’s hard to play against, he’s strong on the puck and he creates turnovers.”

If the regular season was any indication, the Bruins will be in for a dog fight when they head up to Faribanks to play the Ice Dogs. Austin beat Fairbanks 2-1 and 4-3 in Riverside Arena this season, but the Ice Dogs won 5-4 and 4-1 in Alaska.

One thing the Bruins know they are going to see in Fairbanks is an arena packed with loud hockey fans. It will be Austin’s job to keep those fans from getting fired up. Bretner said it will be a little easier now that the Bruins know what to expect after the Bruins spent two weeks in Alaska during the regular season.

“That trip to Alaska was as worse as it gets,” Bretner said. “We didn’t play so hot. Their crowd is nuts and we know what to expect. There are no secrets and if we go up there and play our game, we’re going to win. The biggest motivation for us is keep those fans quiet. We want to go up there and just dominate them and give them no reason to make fun of us or get at us about anything.”

After the Bruins finished off their Game 3 win over the Topeka Roadrunners, the squad was met by a group of Austin fans outside of their bus. While they probably won’t have many Austin fans up in Alaska, that kind of support gave the squad a good boost headed into the finals.

Tok said his squad will be ready for whatever comes its way this weekend.

“We beat teams with different styles of teams and they all have good goal tending to get here,” Tok said. “When adversity stares you in the face, you’ve got to slap it and beat it down and overcome it. That’s what we’ve been doing so far.”