Hulking Austin Bruins defenseman Simmons-Fischer hopes to be 'part of something bigger' at St. Thomas
Braidan Simmons-Fischer made a big switch this past offseason, hoping it would attract more Division I college coaches. It certainly did. Just 20 games into his second season with the Austin Bruins,
Braidan Simmons-Fischer was at work on Tuesday, one day after announcing his commitment to play Division I college hockey at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul.
The hulking Austin Bruins defenseman’s phone buzzed with a familiar number, that of Tommies assistant coach Cory Laylin.
The UST coaching staff was wasting no time in thinking of all the ways they can utilize the size and skills of their newest recruit.
“Coach Laylin said ‘what do you think about playing on the left side on the power play?’” Simmons-Fischer said Wednesday. “I kind of laughed and said ‘sure, sounds great.’ I’m not going to say no to that.
“He asked me what my one-timer is like … he told me they want me to take 80 one-timers a day. Today I took 100.”
The commitment to succeeding is already evident on both sides. Simmons-Fischer, a native of Detroit suburb Waterford, Mich., wants to help a fledgling Division I program grow into a competitive team and eventually into a college hockey power. The Tommies’ coaching staff wants to help Simmons-Fischer achieve his goals, too.
“They said they really want me to come in and play defense, play a lot of minutes and be a person they count on,” he said. “They want to work with me that way, use me in a bunch of different ways, from 3-on-3 to the power play.
“Those little calls go a long way. It shows they’re thinking about me and they want me to succeed.”
The second-year Bruin has made some significant changes over the past half-year to secure his place at a Division I program. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Simmons-Fischer moved from forward to defense this season, and announced early in the season he had de-committed from Western Michigan University.
It took 20 games for him to find a new home. He has started the enrollment process at St. Thomas, intends to sign his National Letter of Intent next week and be on the ice in the fall for the Tommies’ second season as a Division I program.
Simmons-Fischer said he is proud to be a big part of the Tommies’ first full recruiting class at the Division I level.
Head coach Rico Blasi and assistants Laylin and Leon Hayward were behind the curve for recruiting for this season when they were hired back in April to lead UST into its Division I era. Nearly half of the Tommies roster (13 of 28 players) were on the team a year ago and are holdovers from the Division III era.
“The coaching staff has been super supportive (throughout the recruiting process),” Simmons-Fischer said. “They’ve been in touch the whole way and made it feel like a family process instead of just a recruiting process.
“They want me to come and be a part of something bigger than just myself or them. … They’re bringing in three (defensemen) and six or seven forwards for next season. They have a lot of guys who have the same mentality I do: We want to develop and grow and be part of something bigger.”
While his college commitment is set, Simmons-Fischer — the son of former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Jiri Fischer — still has work to do and goals to accomplish this season in Austin. He has two goals, one assist and 67 penalty minutes through 20 games.
The Bruins are in a tight battle in the North American Hockey League Central Division, with the top four teams currently separated by just seven points in the standings. Second-place Austin is 11-7-3 and three points back of division-leading North Iowa heading into a home-and-home series against the Bulls this weekend. The teams are set to meet at 7 p.m. Friday in Austin, then at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Mason City.
“My first pass coming out of the zone is pretty good,” Simmons-Fischer said when asked to evaluate his play so far as a defenseman. “I can see the ice well, as I used to as a forward. I know where guys are supposed to be and if I throw it to a spot, I know someone should be there.
“When I play a simple game, my game has less errors and is more smooth and accountable. It’s when I try to incorporate some of the little things … I have to get my gaps down, know when not to cross over on a 1-on-1, little things that every defenseman grew up learning. Those little things that help create a big picture. As of now, it’s OK, but I want to be great, want my game to be elite.
“I won’t be satisfied until I reach that.”
Simmons-Fischer had more to say about his commitment to the University of St. Thomas, which was 1-14-0 in its first Division I season, going into its home game tonight against Penn State.
POST BULLETIN: What helped sell you on committing to UST?
BRAIDAN SIMMONS-FISCHER: I wanted to be able to come in and play. That’s the goal I’ve had in mind and they want me to come in and play as a defenseman right away. Switching to defense has been an interesting ride so far. It’s had its upside and downside sometimes. I need to figure out the little kinks in my game. … The St. Thomas campus as a whole is beautiful. The cathedral they built the campus around (The Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas) is one of a kind, beautiful. I wanted to have the best education I could get, to go along with hockey, and they have that.
PB: Is it a bonus to be right in a major metropolitan area?
BSF: That’s a yes and a no for me. I’m not a super big-city guy, but the way the campus is set up, it makes it feel like you’re in a smaller town. With 10,000 kids on campus it gives you a feeling of home, like I can get to know everyone and they know me. At the same time, it’s 15 minutes to Xcel Center to watch the Wild.
PB: How big of a part of the recruiting process was head coach Rico Blasi? He won a lot at Miami, including going to a national championship game.
BSF: Anywhere he’s coached, he’s set a tradition. That’s something we’re all fighting for. It’s more than just playing hockey, it’s a brotherhood like he built at Miami. At St. Thomas, we have something we’re fighting for; it’s more than just playing hockey. He does a really great job of representing that. He’ll have your back through thick and thin, outside of hockey, too. That’s important to have in a coach. … The whole staff was all about me from the beginning. They see my upside and what can happen when I truly figure out what type of player I can be.
PB: When you were initially committed to Western Michigan, you were excited about being close to home and family. Now, it turns out, you’ll be staying in Minnesota, the place you’ve called home for the past two years. Did that play any part in your decision to commit to UST?
BSF: I love Minnesota and I did kind of want to stay here. It reminds me of Michigan in some ways, kind of like the (Upper Peninsula), but we have the big cities here, too. It definitely feels like home. It’s not too far from (Michigan). I like it here, and hopefully I can start my life here.