Bruins hold Welcome Home celebration

Published 8:16 pm Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Austin Bruins Josh Bretner signs an autograph for Jakob Loverink next to the NAHL Central Cup during a welcome home Wednesday night in Riverside Arena. Eric Johnson/

Austin Bruins Josh Bretner signs an autograph for Jakob Loverink next to the NAHL Central Cup during a welcome home Wednesday night in Riverside Arena. Eric Johnson/

The Austin Bruins just finished off their best season in franchise history and their fans were on hand to thank them in Riverside Arena Wednesday night. The Bruins were greeted by a large group of their fans on what Mayor Tom Steihm proclaimed as ‘Austin Bruins’ day.

Every fan in attendance had the opportunity to get autographs from the Bruins players and meet them up close.

Mary Johnson, who lives in Austin and is a season ticket holder, loves having the Bruins in town. She has been a big fan of the team and she attended both playoff games in Bismarck this year.

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“There’s not much to do in Austin and they’ve brought a lot to the community,” Johnson said. “For them to take it as far as they did has been great. I think they are definitely Austin’s team and I would be heartbroken if they ever left Austin.”

In this past season, Austin knocked off the Bismarck Bobcats in five games in the NAHL Central Division Finals, and the Bruins beat Topeka in three games in the Robertson Cup semifinals before their season came to an end in the Robertson Cup finals in a two-game sweep by Fairbanks.

“It was big to take the next step and get to the finals. It’s really big to show what we’re capable of and guys are already talking about winning it next year. Before it was just winning the division,” Austin head coach Chris Tok said. “Any time you can build a tradition of success, it leads to more people wanting to be a part of it. The more we can prove we’re winners, the better caliber of players we will get.”

This season also saw some of the Bruins reach their individual goals. Former Bruin Christian Folin signed with the Minnesota Wild, Austin goalie Nick Lehr committed to play with the University of Minnesota and Austin’s all-time leading scorer Jay Dickman committed to play at Bemidji State University. The Bruins have gotten better every year in their four years and Tok and Bruins owner Craig Patrick said that is no coincidence.

“Chris is a great teacher as a coach,” Patrick said. “We had good talent this season and he took those guys and taught them things about the game that they didn’t even know existed. He used plenty techniques to help them. Jamie Huffman spends a lot of time helping to recruit guys.”

Austin had plenty of success on the ice and their fans were there to support them through it all. Patrick said he was shocked when he saw how many Bruin fans made the trip to Topeka for the Robertson Cup semifinals.

“When we scored we were louder than the home fans,” Patrick said. “Having the boys embraced by our community like that feels so good. Seeing Bruins fans tail gating in Topeka kind of choked me up a little bit.”

The Bruins coaching staff is already looking towards next year as the team is holding a tryout camp in Milwaukee Wednesday. Tok said he is hoping he can get his players to begin their workout regimen earlier in the year and he said the having players train at IMPACT Martial Arts and Fitness has been useful for the team.

“That allows them to train a different way and that’s huge for our guys,” Tok said. “There’s not just one way to get it done.

As for future changes, Patrick said the team will be re-doing some of the lighting inside and it continues to search for more sponsors. The Bruins are looking to stay solid on the ice and in the community.

“[Supporting the team] is a lot easier message to bring across when you have a full arena every night and the team is really successful,” Patrick said. “We’ve had some great efforts in the community. We want to continue to be a force to work for good in the community. We want [Riverside] to be a place where you can go have fun and take a break from everything.”