A place to call home: Bruins earning their place on the ice and in Austin

Published 10:12 pm Friday, August 9, 2019

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series on the Bruins and their 10-year anniversary in Austin. On Tuesday read about 10 things that have marked the Bruins through the years.

As Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard enters his third year on the job, he’s thinking he might want to stick around for awhile.

Howard, who has led the Bruins to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons has signed a five-year contract extension to stick around with the team.

Austin’s Dante Sheriff goes down trying to get around Aberdeen’s Max Salpeter in the Central Division semifinals at Riverside Arena this past April.
Herald file photos

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“The community is a big part of it. We like living here,” Howard said. “The other side of it is the organization; it’s run the right way and it’s stable. When you get around an ownership group that wants to be around for awhile, what’s the point of looking to see if the grass is greener on the other side? There are a lot of jobs in hockey, but there’s not that many good jobs.”

The Bruins are entering their 10th season on the ice and they’ve brought back a familiar face to steer the team towards another run at the postseason. Keegan Asmundson, who was Austin’s first ever goalie, is headed back to town to work as the Bruins’ goalie coach and he’s excited to rediscover the town that once vaulted him into a three-year run at Canisius College before his stints in the ECHL and the SPHL.

Asmundson recalled the Bruins as a franchise that was still getting its feet wet as he was the primary goalie for a team that missed out on the postseason. But he wasn’t surprised that the Bruins eventually found their footing and have now become an annual contender in the NAHL Central Division.

“Austin is were my hockey career kind of took off and I’m hoping lightning can strike twice now that I’m moving into coaching and not stopping pucks anymore,” Asmundson said. “It’s a great place to be. The billets were very nice and very welcoming when they weren’t sure what junior hockey was. We had to establish a lot of things in the community.”

The Bruins have had a lot of big wins — including two Roberston Cup appearances — but they haven’t brought home the championship trophy yet. Howard said he felt the Bruins were neck-and-neck with Aberdeen, the eventual champs, last season, but bad luck and bad breaks cost the Bruins as they faded in the second half of the season.

Austin finished the season with 16 concussions on its roster, while the Wings had just five concussions.

In the 2013-14 season, the Bruins won the NAHL Central Division for the first time. During their 10 years in Austin, the Bruins played for Robinson Cup twice and although they lost both, Austin would leave its mark on the NAHL.

“They had an older team and they kept the foot on the gas,” Howard said. “You can’t predict a lot of things that are going to happen throughout the year. Sometimes it’s how you react to adversity. We were in cruise control and then when we came back from break we lost seven in a row and that’s not something you can do and expect to win a championship at the end. Our mindset needs to be that it’s a nine month season, not a four month season.”

Howard said he likes the way Austin’s fans travel to road games and he can’t believe how many Austin residents have volunteered to be billet families.

“Lately we’ve had too many billet families and not enough players and I’ve never seen that before, usually it’s the other way around and you have to scramble to find people to host players,” Howard said. “I think this community just grows on people and it’s grown on me. To see that we’ve produced some NHLers shows that it’s not a bad place to play. It’s a great junior town and there were some great teams put together by Chris Tok. It’s helped us out a lot because we’re able to win some recruiting battles with the other league.”

While the Bruins have tried to stay active in the community by reading at school districts and making public appearances, Howard said he’d like the team to stay more involved.

“We need to do more. We’ve all talked about it,” Howard said. “I think we’re missing some opportunitities and we’ve got to put ourselves out there a little more. We’ve got to do that this year. – want to get out to businesses and read to kids, nursing homes, veterans