Austin Bruins mix in new faces, but fall at St. Cloud
The Austin Bruins have wrapped up the NAHL Central Division championship, but they fell at St. Cloud on Thursday night with a handful of young players inserted in the lineup.
ST. CLOUD — Just a few nights after locking up the North American Hockey League Central Division regular season championship, the Austin Bruins shuffled their lineup against the rival St. Cloud Norsemen.
The Bruins welcomed one new face to the lineup and a couple of others who have played sparingly at the NAHL level this season.
The result was a 4-2 loss to the Norsemen, but not for a lack of effort or skill on Austin's part.
St. Cloud needed a power-play goal late in the second period, then an empty-net goal late in the third, to seal the victory.
The Norsemen win came five days after they had lost to the Bruins in Austin in a shootout, a win that locked up the division title for the Bruins (33-14-8 overall). Thursday's win was a huge one for St. Cloud, which improved to 27-20-8 overall and pulled one point ahead of North Iowa for second place in the Central Division. The top two teams in the standings at the end of the regular season earn home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins will have home-ice advantage throughout the division playoffs.
The teams traded goals twice in the second period Thursday.
Sam Christiano opened the scoring for Austin 6:50 into the period, but St. Cloud answered quickly with goals 67 seconds apart by Daniels Murnieks and Blake Perbix to take a 2-1 lead.
The Bruins tied it 2-2 four minutes later on Jackson Luther's seventh goal of the season. Rochester Grizzlies forward Erik Hernborn earned the primary assist on the tally, his first assist and second point at the NAHL level.
Austin was called for a penalty 39 seconds later, though, and the Norsemen cashed in, as Kade Peterson scored his 22nd goal of the season on a power play. That goal held up as the game winner. Peterson — who has seven goals and four assists against the Bruins this season — added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds to extend St. Cloud's lead to 4-2.
For Austin, defenseman John Novak made his NAHL debut. The Lakeville South High School standout is a Bruins' affiliate player. Novak had one shot on goal and an even plus/minus rating in the game.
Adam Prokop made his third start of the season in goal for the Bruins. Prokop, who spent most of this season with the Milwaukee Power — a division rival of the Rochester Grizlies in the NA3HL — stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced, allowing just two even-strength goals.
The Bruins and Norsemen finish their home-and-home series at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Riverside Arena in Austin.