'He's been a great fit': Austin Bruins' big man Simmons-Fischer developing into all-around player
At 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Braidan Simmons-Fischer made a strong first impression with the Austin Bruins by using his size and strength to take opponents out of their game. The 19-year-old has continued to develop all facets of his game and has become an offensive contributor for the Bruins down the stretch in the regular season.
The Austin Bruins got a good look at Braidan Simmons-Fischer early this season, before they had any inkling he could end up on their roster.
Simmons-Fischer was playing for the Green Bay Gamblers when they faced the Bruins in a preseason game last fall.
The big, physical forward left a lasting impression on Bruins head coach Steve Howard, as well as some Bruins players. Toward the end of training camp, the Gamblers -- who play in the Tier I USHL -- and Simmons-Fischer agreed he’d be better off joining a team in the Tier II North American Hockey League, where he could get more ice time and continue to develop his game.
“We talked to Green Bay when they were going to let him go,” Howard said. “We had just played against them in the preseason and you couldn’t help but notice him getting after our ‘D’ and our guys turning the puck over because nobody likes a big 6-foot-7 guy skating right behind you when you’re going back to recover a puck.
“When they called us, we instantly said ‘yeah, we want him’ He’s been a great fit ever since.”
The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Fischer-Simmons has indeed been a great fit with the Bruins. He’s played every role that’s been asked of him, from penalty killer to power play to keeping the opposition’s top line in check.
“Coach says I’m his Swiss Army Knife,” Simmons-Fischer said. “I try to pride myself on doing the little things right and making sure I can play in every zone. With me coming into the lineup and where I fit in it, I think I’ve done what I’ve needed to do and what the coaches have asked of me.”
As of late, Simmons-Fischer’s confidence has carried onto the scoresheet for the Bruins, who have heated up over the final two months of the NAHL regular season. The 19-year-old Detroit native has averaged a point per game over the past month, with a goal and five assists in Austin’s last six games.
“I think just getting that first one, getting the monkey off my back really helped,” he said. “I was gripping the stick too tight, wanting to do every little thing right. … I think that finally being comfortable with myself and trusting myself to do the things I can do has really helped me as this season’s gone on.”
Traveling the globe
Austin is approximately a 10-hour drive from Simmons-Fischer’s home.
In a year or two, he’ll play his college hockey just a couple of hours away from his family at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
Being away from home is no sweat for the Bruins’ leader in penalty minutes this season (the hulking forward has 151 penalty minutes; the next closest on the team is Connor Mylymok, with 99). Simmons-Fischer has moved all over the world throughout his hockey career, from Michigan to Minnesota, to a one-game shot with the U.S. National Team Development Program this season and even a year in Europe.
“Since I was 13, I’ve been at least seven hours away from home,” he said.
Simmons-Fischer's year abroad was a season spent in Austria at the elite Red Bull Hockey Academy in Salzburg. The academy, which reportedly carried a $60 million price tag to construct, includes two rinks, a video room, two skating treadmills with a video analysis system, a fitness center, dorms and a state-of-the-art dining hall.
“It’s absolutely beautiful there,” said Simmons-Fischer, the son of former Detroit Red Wings star Jiri Fischer. “It really brought me to the player I am today. We worked a lot on skills and skating, the things I really needed to improve in my game. That really gave me the jump I needed to get to the junior level.”
Now, thanks in part to the recent uptick in Simmons-Fischer’s point production, the Bruins are 4-1-1 over their past six games and enter this weekend -- the final two games of the regular season -- with a chance to earn the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. Austin will likely need to sweep a home-and-home series against St. Cloud (tonight at St. Cloud, Saturday at Austin, 7:05 p.m.) and have the Minnesota Wilderness lose twice at Bismarck in order to make the playoffs.
“We just have to execute well, play the same way, the same style, have to get everybody to buy in,” Howard said. “We can’t have anybody take a night off.
“I like the way we’ve played the past few weeks. Systematically we’re getting dialed in and our structure looks really good. We’ve had a few loose moments here and there. You’re going to have some mistakes. We just want to make fewer than the other team and when they make mistakes, we want to capitalize on our chances.”
Simmons-Fischer agreed, saying no one in the Bruins’ locker room is ready for their season to end this weekend.
“We’ve gone from a little bit of a rocky start to really finding ourselves as a team,” he said, “finding your teammates and realizing this is family. These are the people you’re going to be around and play with and see every day.
“We realized this is something we can do. It’s obtainable and we hope these next two games really show what we’re about.”
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A BRUINS-BRONCOS PIPELINE
Western Michigan University's roster has been dotted with former Austin Bruins in recent seasons. Three more WMU commits are currently on the Bruins' roster. Another local connection: Rochester native Pat Ferschweiler is the Broncos' associate head coach. Here's a look at the pipeline from Austin to Kalamazoo:
• Current Bruins committed to WMU: Barrett Brooks, forward; Carson Riddle, forward; Braidan Simmons-Fischer, forward.
• Former Bruins playing at WMU: Hugh Larkin, forward
• Former Bruins who recently played at WMU: Dawson DiPietro (currently with the Rochester Americans in the AHL); Austin Rueschhoff (Hartford Wolfpack, AHL)