Bruins are set to host Wilderness in NAHL Central Division semifinals

Published 7:33 pm Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Austin Bruins have been playing with pressure on them for the last few weeks, and now they’re hoping that has paid off. After winning their last four regular season games to clinch home ice for their five-game NAHL Central Division semifinals series against the Minnesota Wilderness, the Bruins will now put their season on the line.

Austin will host games one and two at Riverside Arena at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Austin forward and all-time leading scorer Travis Kothenbeutel is expecting it to be a tough series against the Wilderness, who took five out of eight games from Austin during the regular season.

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“They’re a good hockey team,” said Kothenbeutel, who had 24 goals and 43 assists this season for a team-high 67 points. “They’ve got big guys and we’ve got big guys. I think it’s going to be a hard nosed hockey game. It’s going to be a tight game the whole way. It’s going to be fun.”

While the teams are familiar with each other, the Bruins and Wilderness haven’t played since Dec. 30 and Austin head coach Steve Howard said both teams have made changes for the better since then.

“They have a lot of depth, they skate fast and they obviously can score,” Howard said. “I think we match up well against each other, it’s just a matter of who’s going to take over the game and impose their will. We respect them a lot and it’ll be an interesting series.”

It’s most likely that the Bruins will lean on Alex Schilling to handle most of the goal tending duties through the postseason. Schilling, who is 22-13-2-3 overall with a goals against average of 2.35 and a save percentage of 91.6 this season, won a state championship in his senior season at Wayzata and he has a lot of big game experience.

“I think every guy in the team has all of the faith in the world in Alex,” Kothenbeutel said. “He’s been our backbone this whole year and we’re going to keep riding him.”

After missing out on the playoffs last season, Austin’s veterans are hungry to make a postseason run this season. Kothenbeutel, who has committed to Air Force, Schilling, who has committed to Air Force, Matt Eller, and Evan Cholak are all in their last eligible season of junior hockey.

“We want to end on a really high note to finish our junior careers. It goes fast,” Schilling said. “We try to preach to the younger guys, if you make it to the playoffs, you’ve got to go out and try and get that cup. You never know when you’re going to get here again.”

Games three and four of the series are scheduled to take place in Cloquet on April 20 and April 21 and game five would be in Riverside Arena April 23. The winner of the series will take on either top-seeded Aberdeen or fourth seeded Minot in the Central Division finals, which begin April 27.