It’s a new season: Bruins are ready to take on Wings

Published 8:59 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Austin Bruins don’t care how they got into the playoffs. They’re more concerned with winning in the playoffs.

The No. 4 seeded Austin Bruins will have a tall task in front of them as they open the NAHL Central Division playoffs against the top-seeded Aberdeen Wings, who won the NAHL Central Division by 22 points this season.

Austin will open the best-of-five game series by playing at Aberdeen at 7:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The series will come to Riverside Arena on April 19 and April 20.

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The Wings are one of the stingiest teams in the NAHL and goalie Matt Vernon has the league’s third best goals against average at 1.94. He’s stopped 94 percent of the shots he’s seen this season and he has a record of 40-9-2-1 overall.

Austin’s Terry Ryder rides Bismarck’s Adam Stacho into the boards during the first period Friday night in Riverside Arena. Eric Johnson/

“They’ve stayed the course. They have a good team and they’re well coached,” Austin head coach Steve Howard said of Aberdeen. “That group that they have back from last year’s team is keeping the ship going. They’ve got good goal tending and they play good team defense. It’s up to us to match up to that.”

The series will feature two of the top scorers in the NAHL as Aberdeen’s Brad Belisle is ninth in the league with 68 points and Austin’s Dante Sheriff is 11th in the league with 67 points.

In the net, Austin will look Kyle McClellan to lead the way as he has been the team’s sole goaltender since Brett Miller went down with an injury at the beginning of March. McClellan is 22-17-0-4 and he has a save percentage of 91.5, while allowing 2.31 goals per game.

“We’re relying on him a lot. He’s got to be our guy,” Howard said of McClellan. “He’s got to accept it and be the man back there. A hot goal tender can win a playoff series.”

Last season, Minot advanced all the way to the Robertson Cup title game as the No. 4 seed and the Bruins are hoping to create a similar run this season. To do that, Austin will have to change the way it played Aberdeen in the regular season as the Wings beat Austin seven out of eight times this season, outscoring the Bruins 33-12 in those contests.

“Defense wins hockey games and we’ve got to play strong defensively,” Howard said. “It’s a new season. The regular season is over with and anything can happen in the playoffs. We have to make sure we play that underdog role to a T and fight as hard as we can. We’re expecting big things out of our guys.”