Austin Bruins' historic season ends in heartbreak with one-goal title-game loss

The Austin Bruins threw everything they had at the top-seeded Oklahoma Warriors in the NAHL's Robertson Cup national championship game, but the Warriors made one more play than the Bruins and denied Austin its first championship.

20230523_Oklahoma vs. Austin Robertson Cup Championship_019.jpg
Austin defenseman Jimmy Goffredo (15) and forward Matys Brassard (28) console each other Tuesday, May 23, 2023, after losing 4-3 to the Oklahoma Warriors in the NAHL Robertson Cup national championship game at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn.
Eli Swanson / The Rink Live

BLAINE — Like any coach worth his whistle, Steve Howard’s thoughts about next season started churning just minutes after Tuesday’s Robertson Cup championship game.

Maybe it was in an attempt to hold back some emotions, maybe it was the fact that the Austin Bruins will be back in Riverside Arena in a month for their main camp, where the bulk of the 2023-24 team will be formed.

Or maybe it was just the excitement and adrenaline of getting to coach in a national championship game.

“We could have as many as 21 of our 25 guys back,” Howard said as he walked to the post-game press conference at Fogerty Arena. He smiled a bit thinking about what could be next season.

Then, the sixth-year Bruins coach paused and mentioned how much he’ll miss the four players on this 2022-23 version of the Bruins. They’re the ones whose junior hockey eligibility ended when the North American Hockey League season ended late Tuesday night, the Bruins falling in a hard-fought, incredibly well-played title game. His team did everything it could to take a lead against the Oklahoma Warriors in the closing minutes, but in the end, Oklahoma made one more play and earned a 4-3 victory to claim its first Robertson Cup.


It's Austin's third defeat in as many tries in the Robertson Cup. The Bruins also fell to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (2014) and to the Minnesota Wilderness (2015).

“It was a pretty tight game both ways,” Howard said. “They caught us in transition a couple times in the second period and got up 3-1. Our guys got back to being us, and our identity and we got in their zone and tied it up late in the second.

“It became a 20-minute hockey game.”

Oklahoma was able to capitalize on one of many chances it had in the final 20 minutes — William Lawson-Body feeding defenseman Garrett Horsager in the high slot on a power play. Horsager drilled a one-timer through traffic that got past Bruins goalie Trent Wiemken with 3:37 remaining. It held up as the game winner.

“We threw everything we could at them,” Howard said. “I’m looking at the shots on goal right now; we outshot them 37-23. … It was a good hockey game. A power-play goal late, that one stung. Tough to bounce back from in the last five minutes.”

20230523_Oklahoma vs. Austin Robertson Cup Championship_030.jpg
Austin goaltender Trent Wiemken (32) stops a penalty shot by Oklahoma forward Rylan Brady (28) Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in the NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn.
Eli Swanson / The Rink Live

That led Howard’s thoughts back to those four players who will assuredly move on from the Bruins and junior hockey — forward Walter Zacher (a Robert Morris commit), and defensemen Nate Looft, Bryan Gilman, and the team’s captain, Jack Malinski (a Vermont commit).

There’s also a good chance the Bruins lose at least three guys to the USHL — forward Gavin Morrissey and defensemen Matthew Desiderio and Jimmy Goffredo were selected in the league’s draft earlier this month.

“Start with the Bash Brothers — Looft and Gilman — they played together in the (Saskatchewan Junior League) last year and they’re a couple of heart-and-soul guys,” Howard said. “They’re old-school throwback guys, best buds on and off the ice. They were fun to have, they were like the big brothers protecting their (teammates).


“Walter Zacher, our all-time leading goal scorer. Just a natural goal scorer; you don’t find too many of those guys who can put the puck in the net like him. Great kid, great family, a joy to coach. And Jack Malinski, he’s going to be a captain again, I guarantee it. He earns the respect of the room, the guys listen and I’m just so proud to be able to coach him for two years.”

Oklahoma coach Garrett Roth — who coached for a decade in the same division as the Bruins, first with Aberdeen, then Bismarck — led the Warriors to their first championship in their third year as a franchise. The team spent two seasons in Wichita Falls, Texas, before relocating to Oklahoma City this season. The Warriors had eight Division I commits in the lineup Tuesday, including NAHL MVP Joey Delgreco, a Grand Rapids, Minn., native, who is committed to Augustana University.

“The biggest thing is, we just wanted to build our group on character,” Roth said. “We wanted to create a culture and get guys who are good teammates and want to do things the right way. We were able to find some really talented players who we were able to mix together and, from the first year on to this year, our group has only gotten closer and tighter.

“This year was a really special group in that locker room. Every single guy was in it for the right reasons.”

For Howard and the Bruins, they’ll take a short time to recover from an emotional loss, but also to look forward to next season, which begins in less than four months.

“I’m just proud of these guys,” Howard said. “It was a great year. Obviously it’s not the result we wanted, but we can bring back a lot of guys. We’re a young team. I think they’re all going to remember this and I hope it motivates them for next year.”

20230523_Oklahoma vs. Austin Robertson Cup Championship_032.jpg
Austin forward Josh Giuliani (25) scores on Oklahoma goaltender Daniel Duris (30) Tuesday, May 23, 2023, in the NAHL Robertson Cup National Championship at Fogerty Arena in Blaine, Minn.
Eli Swanson / The Rink Live

All-Tournament Team

Goalie: Daniel Duris, Oklahoma.


Defensemen: Owen Baumgartner, Oklahoma; Jack Malinski (Austin).

Forwards: William Lawson-Body, Oklahoma; Walter Zacher (Austin); Brendan Williams (Oklahoma).

Robertson Cup MVP: Brendan Williams (Oklahoma).

How They Scored


Austin 1, Oklahoma 0. Isaak Brassard (Matys Brassard, Matthew Desiderio) 7:31. The Energy Line gives Austin an early spark. Matys gathers the puck in the neutral zone as the Warriors’ defense loses track of Isaak. Matys makes a perfect pass to send his brother in alone. Duris stops the first shot but Isaak pops the rebound past him.

Austin 1, Oklahoma 1. Rylan Brady (Kaden Nelson, Owen Carlile) 11:37. Oklahoma cycles the puck in Austin’s end and Brady is left all alone in the low slot. Nelson gets the puck to him from behind the goal and Brady one-times it past Wiemken.


Oklahoma 2, Austin 1. Brendan Williams (William Lawson-Body, Hunter Jones) 4:52. The Warriors enter the zone 3-on-2. Jones sends a pass to Lawson-Body on the right wing and he snaps it back across the ice to wide-open Williams in the left circle. He shoots far side and gives Oklahoma its first lead.


Oklahoma 3, Austin 1. Blaise Miller (Brady) 10:04. The Warriors get another odd-man rush and take advantage. Brady carries the puck down the left wing and sends a perfect pass to Miller on the right wing. Miller one-times it High past Wiemken.

Oklahoma 3, Austin 2. Josh Giuliani (Walter Zacher, Damon Furuseth) 13:40. Giuliani cashes in on the Bruins’ first power-play chance, scoring his second goal of the Robertson Cup to pull Austin back within one.

Oklahoma 3, Austin 3. Zacher (Salani, Malinski) 19:07. Malinski makes a nice play to move the puck down the wall to Salani, who holds off a Oklahoma defender, then centers it to a wide-open Zacher in the low slot. The Bruins’ all-time leading goal-scorer doesn’t miss and ties the score.


Oklahoma 4, Austin 3. Garrett Horsager (Lawson-Body) 16:23. On a power play, the Warriors move the puck quickly in attempt to get the Bruins out of position. Lawson-Body gathers the puck in the left circle and sends a quick pass to Horsager at the top of the slot. Horsager blasts a one-timer through traffic that Wiemken never sees.

PB’s 3 Stars

No. 1: William Lawson-Body, Oklahoma. The Warriors’ second-line center assisted on two goals, including setting up the game winner.

No. 2: Walter Zacher, Austin. The Bruins’ all-time leader in goals came up clutch once again, powering a shot past Warriors goalie Daniel Duris to tie the score 3-3 late in the second. He also assisted on Josh Giuliani’s power-play goal just more than five minutes earlier.

No. 3: Player, Daniel Duris, Oklahoma. The Warriors goalie was up to the task in the championship game, making 34 saves and helping Oklahoma limit Austin to a 1-for-6 night on the power play.


Box Score


Austin 1-2-0 — 3

Oklahoma 1-2-1 — 4

First period — 1. AUS, Isaak Brassard 1 (Matys Brassard 5, Matthew Desiderio 3) 7:31. 2. OKL, Rylan Brady 1 (Kaden Nelson 1, Owen Carlile 1) 11:37.

Second period — 3. OKL, Brendan Williams 8 (William Lawson-Body 10, Hunter Jones 2) 4:52. 4. OKL, Blaise Miller 1 (Brady 3) 10:04. 5. AUS, Josh Giuliani 4 (Walter Zacher 5, Damon Furuseth 5) 13:40 (pp). 6. AUS, Zacher 9 (Austin Salani 4, Jack Malinski 6) 19:06.

Third period — 7. OKL, Garrett Horsager 1 (William Lawson-Body 11) 16:23 (pp).

Shots on goal — AUS 8-14-15 — 37;OKL 9-7-7 — 23.

Goalies — AUS, Trent Wiemken (L, 8-2-1; 19 saves-23 shots); OKL, Daniel Duris (W, 7-0-0; 34 saves-37 shots).


Power-play opportunities — AUS 1-for-6; OKL 1-for-2

Penalties — AUS 2-4 minutes; OKL 5-10 minutes.

Penalty shot — OKL, Brady (saved by Wiemken); 6:55, third period.

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or
What To Read Next
Get Local