Something’s a Bruin: Austin is looking put the pieces of a winning puzzle together

Published 8:54 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Austin Bruins are turning a new leaf this year with new head coach Steve Howard and the team is already starting to set itself up for a what the Bruins hope will be a successful campaign, one year after the squad missed out on the postseason for the first time since its initial season in 2010-2011.

The Bruins brought in 160 players to Riverside Arena for a team camp this week and now Howard has been busy selecting his players that will help him out in this season. Assistant coach Keenan Kelly and associate head coach Al Rooney helped scout out the players for Howard, and he’s gone about the task of making cuts this week.

“You’re putting a puzzle together. You don’t need all of the same type of player. You’ve got to find guys with speed, you’ve got to find guys with grit and you’ve got to find guys that can score,” Howard said. “You’re looking for a guy that can do a couple of things exceptionally well; he doesn’t have to do everything exceptionally well. You’ll find guys that can’t skate well or they have a weird stride, but yet they can score and they’ve got a knack for the back of the net. Maybe they can see the ice really well, or maybe they’ve got grit and toughness to them.”

Players take to the ice for the day’s first game during the Austin Bruins’ main camp held at Riverside Arena. Eric Johnson/

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The Bruins have a group of veterans remaining from last year’s team and Travis Kothenbeutel, a forward from Sauk Rapids, Minnesota who has committed to University of Nebraska-Omaha, is one of the key returning leaders. Kothenbeutel hasn’t had to fight for his job in camp this week, but he’s been there to help out the players who are battling for a spot.

“We’ve made some of these new guys feel comfortable and welcome here,” Kothenbeutel said. “This is the best camp I’ve been to so far. The coaching staff has a good idea of what they want to do and the guys are buying into it. Everything’s been good so far.”

One of the new Bruins who is expected to make an impact on the ice this season is Reggie Millette, a forward from Canton, Mich. Millette, who played 16U hockey last season. Millette is thrilled about making the jump to the NAHL and he’s been battling hard in practice all week.

“It’s been hard. There’s a lot of body banging out there and it’s been a fun camp. There’s a lot of guys competing for spots,” Millette said. “It’s hectic out here. You’ve got people fighting for spots, but after the game it’s all love. It’s all part of the game.”

Howard is looking forward to coaching with Rooney, who was his teammate on the San Angelo Outlaws in the 2000-2001 season and he also likes what Kelly brings to the table.

Bruins hopefuls were in town over the past few days looking for a roster spot as Austin’s NAHL team look ahead to the 2017-18 season. Photos by Eric Johnson/

“I’ve known Al for a long, long time and it’s a dream of ours to coach together,” he said. “Keenan Kelly is a guy that goes above and beyond and he works his tail off.”

The Bruins camp will conclude with an inter-squad All-Star game in Riverside Arena at 6 p.m. Friday. The game will be run like any other Bruins regular season game. The cost of admittance is $5 for general admission and the game is free to season ticket holder, 10-pack holders and students.

After the All-Star game, Howard will have to make some difficult decisions on which players to send home and which ones to keep.

“At the end of the day, we’ll have to cut some good players and that’s a tough part about this business,” he said.

Howard has spent the last three seasons as the assistant for the United State Hockey League’s Waterloo Black Hawks, coaching under longtime head coach P.K. O’Handley. Howard hails from Burton, Michigan, and has been well-traveled as both a player and coach.

He began his playing career in the NAHL, spending time with the Gaylord Grizzlies and Danville Wings in 1997-98. After stints in the OPJHL and SEHL, Howard played one season collegiately at Division III SUNY Brockport (Rochester, New York). He then spent the next seven seasons playing minor league hockey, including stints in the ECHL, SPHL, and even internationally, playing the final two seasons of his pro career in Holland.