AUSTIN — The Austin Bruins left the North American Hockey League Showcase a week ago riding high.
The Bruins won their first three games of the season, before falling in overtime in their Showcase finale.
They carried that momentum into Friday’s home opener and escaped with a one-goal win against Central Division rival Minot, thanks to a goal by defenseman Marian Haborak in the final five minutes.
Saturday, the Bruins came back to Earth, letting a two-goal lead slip away in a 3-2 loss to Minot in the series finale at Riverside Arena. The Bruins struggled in their own zone and struggled to get into a rhythm in a game littered with penalties and very little five-on-five play through the frist two periods.
The result was the Bruins’ first regulation loss in six games this year (4-1-1 overall) and a sour taste in their mouths after finding ways to earn points in their first five games.
“We definitely have some things to work on,” Bruins fifth-year head coach Steve Howard said following Saturday’s game, in which Austin outshot Minot 29-26 but couldn’t muster an even-strength goal. “Everybody does at this point of the year, but I don’t think you can come out of that Showcase and relax and think you’ve got it made.
“This was a good eye-opener for our guys. It’s going to be a hard week of practice and we’re going to get back to it.”
Defense and goaltending had been a strength for the Bruins through five games, but their back-end struggled to possess the puck and to keep Minot out of its offensive zone on Saturday.
Carson Riddle and Jens Richards scored 43 seconds apart, midway through the second period, on the same major power play.
But, with that five-minute power play winding down, and just 55 seconds after Richards made it 2-0, Austin had a defensive lapse and Minot took advantage. Trevor Stachowiak fed Zack Simon for his first goal of the season at the 12:03 mark of the second to start the Minotauros’ rally.
The lapse in urgency proved costly for Austin and serves as another learning moment for the entire team, including veteran goalie Hudson Hodges, who made 23 saves but dropped to 3-1-1 this season.
“Our guys relaxed,” Howard said. “You get a two-goal lead like that and the five guys who were on the ice all thought they were going to go down and score another goal. Unfortunately, they left the puck and left a guy behind them and before you know it, it’s in the back of the net.
“Hodges should’ve had that post and he didn’t. It’s on him and he’ll be the first to tell you that, too.”
Just less than four minutes later, Austin couldn’t convert on a 3-on-1 rush while on a penalty kill and Minot quickly turned the puck back the other way. Mason Campbell couldn’t convert on a short breakaway, but Bruins’ defenseman Therien Thiesing was called for a slash and Campbell buried the penalty shot to tie the score 2-2.
Then, just more than 8 minutes into the third, Noah Roitman fed Colby Joseph for the game winner.
“We had some mental lapses where I don’t know how else to explain it,” Howard said. “Our (defensemen) did not have a very good night. They turned the puck over and missed assignments.”
Howard said those mistakes can be a positive for the team and the coaching staff in some ways.
“I think it just depends on how quickly we learn from them,” he said. “Right now, our team has been playing on a high because we’ve taken advantage of our chances, but really five-on-five we’re just like everybody else.
“That’s where, honestly, all of our guys have to clean things up. Myself and our staff, we have to do some better coaching because the guys are really loose right now. In the next week or two we’ll fine-tune some things to get back to not allowing guys in our zone and having the zone time like Minot exposed us on.”
Austin plays a home-and-home series against the North Iowa Bulls next weekend. Friday's game is set for a 7:30 p.m. start in Mason City, with Saturday's game in Austin scheduled for a 7 p.m. opening faceoff.
MINOT 3, AUSTIN 2
First period — no scoring. Second period — 1. A, Carson Riddle 4 (unassisted) 10:25 (pp). 2. A, Jens Richards 5 (Dylan Gajewski 3, Alex Trombley 4) 11:08 (pp). 3. M, Zack Simon 1 (Trevor Stachowiak 1) 12:03 (sh). 4. M, Mason Campbell (penalty shot) 15:47. Third period — 5. M, Colby Joseph 3 (Noah Roitman 2, Simon 1) 8:08.
Shots on goal — MNT 7-8-11—26, AUST 9-13-7—29. Goalies — MNT, Carter Clafton (W, 1-1-1; 27 saves-29 shots); AUS, Hudson Hodges (L, 3-1-1; 23 saves-26 shots). Power-play opportunities — MNT, 1-for-4; AUS, 2-for-6. Penalties — MNT 9-55 minutes; AUS 7-14 minutes.