5 takeaways from Austin Bruins tryout camp: Big blue-liners, a rock in goal, and more
The Austin Bruins wrapped up their main tryout camp on Friday night with an All-Star Game featuring the best 42 players from the camp, which started Tuesday with 160 players.
AUSTIN — The Austin Bruins are five weeks away from opening their regular season at the North American Hockey League Showcase.
As the Bruins look forward to that opener on Sept. 15 against Wichita Falls, they know the framework of their 2021-22 roster is now in place, following this week’s main tryout camp at Riverside Arena.
A camp roster of 160 players was pared to 42 for Friday night’s camp All-Star Game. The majority of the players who’ll be on the roster to start the season were part of that All-Star Game. Here are 5 observations from Friday’s game:
1. Big on the blue line
Austin could trot out a massive defensive corps this season if it wants to. The Bruins already have a pair of 6-footers returning in Therien Thiesing (6-0, 170) and Michigan Tech commit Frank Dovorany (6-0, 185).
East Grand Forks native Mason Poolman (6-1, 175) has traditionally played forward throughout his hockey career but he lined up at defense in Saturday’s camp All-Star Game. That could be a sneaky-good move for the Bruins. ‘D’ runs in Poolman’s family. His oldest brother Tucker has played in 163 NHL games and his brother Colton is entering his second season with the AHL’s Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ top affiliate.
Beyond those three returners, Austin lined up three d-men on Saturday who were at least 6-feet-4, including NAHL Supplemental Draft pick Xavier-Alexandre Jean-Louis. The 6-4, 190-pound Jean-Louis, who was born in Miami, handles the puck and skates well for a big man, and he held his own on more than one occasion in puck battles along the wall with 6-7 forward Braidan Simmons-Fischer, a Western Michigan commit.
2. Riddle me this
Veteran forward Carson Riddle is a rarity with the Bruins — and in junior hockey. The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder from Holly, Michigan, is entering his fourth season with the team; he’s the first Bruin since Travis Kothenbeutel to play four seasons in Austin. (We’ll have a full story about Riddle at PostBulletin.com on Monday, and in Tuesday’s print edition).
He’ll be the Bs captain this season and he showed why he earned that “C” on Saturday. Riddle scored twice, including a nifty move in the first period to score on a short-handed breakaway. The Western Michigan commit has already played in 152 games as a Bruin and this season he’ll follow in the skates of some high-end captains who he’s played with (Lane Krenzen, Ben Almquist and Connor Mylymok).
3. Hudson a rock in goal
If Tyler Shea sticks with the Madison Capitols (USHL), expect Hudson Hodges to be the clear-cut No. 1 goalie for the Bruins to start the season. Hodges, a Moorhead native entering his second season in Austin, allowed two goals — one on Riddle’s short-handed breakaway — but was mostly sharp in Saturday’s All-Star Game. He showed his ability to play the puck well and was strong on the penalty kill. The Bs know what they have in Hodges — the 19-year-old went 9-9-0 with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .899 save percentage last season as a rookie — now they need to add some depth.
4. Make room for Malinski
Lakeville native Jacob Malinski only played in five games for the Bruins last season after joining the team late in the year. It’s easy to see why the Bruins coaches like the 5-10, 165-pound right-shot defenseman, though. In Saturday’s All-Star Game he showed remarkable vision from the blue line and played with an edge. He had the primary assist on two goals, and nearly had another early in the game when he threaded a pass from the point that a teammate just missed re-directing past Hodges for a goal. If Malinski brings the same effort and intensity to every game that he brought Saturday, he’ll push for an every-night spot in Austin’s lineup.
5. Continuity among coaches
For the first time in Steve Howard’s five years as Bruins head coach, the team’s coaching staff will return fully intact from the previous season. Assistants Justin Fischer and Cory Lonke are back, and Howard recently added former Bemidji State forward Hampus Sjodahl to the staff. COVID protocols and restrictions turned the 2020-21 season upside down — the Bruins went two months without playing a home game in one stretch. The elimination of those restrictions, along with the continuity in the coaching staff and momentum from a strong finish to last season, has the Bruins’ brass believing the club will find its way back to the postseason next spring.