Return of the Bears

Published 2:21 pm Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Austin Bruins hold up the NAHL Central Cup after defeating the Bismarck Bobcats in game 5 of the Central Division finals last season. Herald file photo

The Austin Bruins hold up the NAHL Central Cup after defeating the Bismarck Bobcats in game 5 of the Central Division finals last season. Herald file photo

Austin Bruins forward JC MacLean is no stranger to hockey.

The 17-year-old, 6-2, 195-pound native of Basking Ridge, N.J., has grown up around the sport as he is the son of John MacLean, a 21-year NHL veteran who spent most of his career with the New Jersey Devils. Growin up, JC remembers watching and learning from his dad, who also coached with the Devils after his playing days.

“It’s always has been tough [having a dad who played in the NHL], and I’m trying to carve my own path. I’m going to try and make a name for myself and not live off his,” JC said. “It was actually pretty cool when you’re a kid, because you get to see all of the guys that you want to be like when you’re older. Then you get older, and you know how to train and eat right. I’ve kind of got an advantage from being around that.”

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There are a lot of young players like JC on the Bruins’ roster this season. After putting up the best season in franchise history and advancing to the Robertson Cup Finals last season, Austin is starting over again with 23 new players — 18 who have never played at the NAHL level. But the Bruins are not expecting a down year like their first season when they were packed with inexperienced players. They still have high hopes.

It just might take a little time for them to find their groove.

“We’ve got to have patience with these guys,” Austin head coach Chris Tok said. “I think they have a lot of potential, but potential is not always tapped. It’s like a good bottle of wine: You’ve got to wait, even if you want it right now. They could surprise me, because they’re eager, and they have the drive. But there are things they have to learn for us to get that consistent production.”

The Bruins bring back just a handful of players from last year’s team as Cory Dunn, Alex Pettersson, Jake Arroyo, Trevor Boyd, Luke Dietsch and Brian Bachnak all return.

Illustration by Eric Johnson

Illustration by Eric Johnson

Bachnak came on in the playoffs for Austin last season. He had seven points in 14 games.

“I’ll be taking on more of a leadership role this year. I’ll be making sure the young guys know what’s going on, whether it’s off the ice around town or on the ice during drills,” Bachnak said. “We’ve got a lot of new faces. There’s a lot of good, young talent, and it’s exciting to see a new group of guys that want to come play for the Austin Bruins. We lost a lot of guys, but when you have a good team, that’s kind of what happens.”

Replacing Nick Leher, who is now with the Minnesota Gophers, in net will be a tall task, but Austin has brought in two highly touted goalies in Jake Kielly of Eden Prairie and Zach Driscoll of Apple Valley. Tok said the two will rotate in net unless one of them begins to stand out over the other.

The Bruins also have more international players on the squad. The team returns Pettersson, who is from Gothenburg, Sweden, and it brings in Hugo Gallet from Amiens, France; Jacob Kullberg from Kallered, Sweden; and Nico Strum from Augsburg, Germany. Strum played in Corpus Christi, Texas, last season.

Austin’s track record with foreign players has been solid so far. Christian Folin, a native Sweden, is playing with the Minnesota Wild, and Guillaume Leclerc, who is from France, is with the University of Massachusetts-Lowell after just one season with the Bruins.

“When they work out like that, it’s kind of hard to say no [to foreign players],” Tok said. “Guillaume Leclerc was a good performer at a young age, and we didn’t think he was going to transition as quickly as he did. Hugo’s got some great, raw talent. He’s not going to put the numbers up that Guillaume did, but he’s great with the puck. Skill-wise he’s a pretty good player.”

Bachnak said it’s the job of the veterans to push the younger players and prepare them for the expectations the Bruins now have. The team is definitely not planning on taking a step back this season.

“After being on a team that made a run, we’re excited to get right back there,” Bachnak said. “We have a lot of young talent, and they are striving every day. [Last year] within a few short months, I was playing at my top level, I think those guys will do the same thing.”

Austin Bruins: Where are the now?

•Keeagan Asmunson at Canisius College

•Christian Folin played at UMass-Lowell and now with Minnesota Wild

•Jon Gehrt at Hamline University

•Charlie Adams at Hamline University

•Jeremy Finger at UMass-Boston

•Connor Quinn at St. Olaf

•Tyler Bruggeman at St. Scholastica

•Jack Walsh at Gustavus

•Cory Ellis at Gustavus

•Cody Hotchkin at UW-Superior

•Wes Judnick at UW-Superior

•Matt Hansen at Colorado College

•Brandon Wahlin at Lake Superior State

•AJ Reid at Air Force

•Mike Bond at Bethel

•Riley Colvard at UW-Stout

•Cody Dixon at UMass-Boston

•Chris Fischer at UW-Eau Claire

•Nolan Kirley at UW-Stout

•Nate Mondry at St. John’s

•Nick Lehr at Minnesota Gophers

•Guillaume Leclerc committed to UMass-Lowell and now with Madison in USHL

•CJ Smith at UMass-Lowell

•Lucas Kohls at UMass-Lowell

•Joe Schuldt at Michigan Tech.

•Charlie Manley committed to RPI and now with Waterloo in USHL

•Easton Viitala at Northern Michigan

•Sam Kaupilla committed to St. Lawrence and now with Green Bay in USHL

•Jay Dickman at Bemidji State

•Casey Jerry committed to Minnesota State-Mankato and now with Cedar Rapids in USHL

•Drew Anderson at Augsburg

•Eli May at Augsburg

•Austin Nelson at UW-Stout

•Dillon Kelly at Adrian College

•Brennan Sanford committed to Michigan State University and now with Cedar Rapids in USHL

•Jason Pawloski committed to Minnesota State-Mankato and now with Green Bay in USHL

•John Simonson at University of North Dakota

•Patrick Nelson at Arizona Wildcats

•Josh Bretner at Arizona Wildcats

•Kody Reuter at Iowa State