Bruins have a new attitude for a new season

Published 7:19 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Austin Bruins are closing in on the season and the team is hoping that means it is moving towards redemption.

The Bruins played in the Robertson Cup in 2014 and 2015 and they were one win from the Robertson Cup in 2016, but last season saw the team miss out on the playoffs completely. First year head Steve Howard has improvement on his mind and right now he’s sorting through approximately 30 players as he looks to trim the roster down to 23 players by Oct. 5.

Howard and the rest of the Bruins coaching staff will have a chance to analyze the talent they have over the next two weeks when Austin will play in four preseason games. The Bruins will host the Brookings Blizzard 7:05 p.m. on Friday in the first of those preseason contests.

Evan Cholak lines up a shot for the Austin Bruins in practice in Riverside Arena Wednesday. Rocky Hulne/

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“There’s a lot of guys going for the same type of positions and it’s only going to get settled once we play some games,” Howard said. “Some of them are getting it pretty quick and some are taking a little more time. We don’t have time to work with the guys who aren’t getting it. We can’t afford to wait three or four months for them to get it.”

The Bruins have a strong mix of veterans and young players ready to step up this season and Howard said he’s been impressed with the early leadership of Travis Kothenbeutel, Dante Zapata, Evan Cholak, Lane Krenzen, Toby Sengvongxay, Jaden Shields and Jacob Schilling.

Krenzen, a defenseman from Duluth Marshall who had 10 points in 53 games last season for Austin, said that he’s already seen some positive signs with this year’s team.

“It’s a dramatic improvement from last year and the culture is already off to a very good start,” Krenzen said. “At the same time, it’s very intense and we have high expectations. With new coaches bringing in new guys, some guys are getting their spots taken and some guys are taking spots. It’s been a very intense start to the season, but that’s how we’re going to be the top team in the league.”

Krenzen said he and his teammates are well aware of the Bruins’ past success and the team has plenty of motivation whenever it takes a look at the wall in Riverside Arena during practice.

“We see the banners up there every day and that’s where we want to be,” Krenzen said. “We don’t want a repeat of last year. We want to be known as that team that never loses at home and is a huge contender to win the division and the Robertson Cup as well.”

Toby Sengvongxay defends for the Austin Bruins in practice in Riverside Arena Wednesday. The Bruins are preparing for the upcoming season and they will host a preseason game against the Brookings Blizzard Friday. Rocky Hulne/

Justin Brandt, who is from Ann Arbor, Michigan, spent last year in the NAHL with the Brookings Blizzard and the Northeast Generals. He and some of the other team’s veterans have seen that the Bruins were picked to finish last in the NAHL Central Division in some early predictions and they’ve filed that in their motivation folder.

“That’s a little extra motivation for us. Some of our older guys saw that and they were ticked off by it. It’s a little extra kick in the butt to keep going,” Brandt said. “I think we’re going to have fast, skilled hard working team. We’re going to play in your face hockey and the whole game we’re going to pound it down your throat and make you play our speed.”

Howard said during his playing career, he hated to play against teams that brought constant pressure on the puck, which led to turnovers and rushed decisions. He wants the Bruins to play exactly like that this season.

“We want the other team to feel like they’re constantly being pressured every time they touch the puck,” Howard said. “We don’t want to shy away from the rough stuff and we want to finish our hits.”

Howard said the team is also focusing on building up a solid chemistry and he’s encouraging players to hang out with each other off the ice to form a strong bond. He likes where the team is now, and Howard is hoping they are even closer when the season starts at the Schwan Cup in Blaine Sept. 21.

“We’re excited to get the season going,” Howard said. “I’m looking forward to the opportunity and looking forward to meeting people in the community.”

The Bruins will host the Minnesota Wilderness in their home opener in Riverside Arena Sept. 30.

Austin’s Evan Cholak turns after the puck during the second period against the Minnesota Wilderness last season. Herald File Photo