Jr. Hockey Notebook: Former Bruin Simonson off to solid start for hometown team

It has taken Johnny Simonson all of two weeks to look comfortable playing Division I college hockey. The former Austin Bruins forward hasn't changed much about his game since leaving after the 2012-13 season. He's just a couple years older and wiser.

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Former Austin Bruins forward Johnny Simonson has made a strong impression in his first weeks as a freshman on the No. 3-ranked University of North Dakota men's hockey team.

It has taken Johnny Simonsonall of two weeks to become comfortable playing Division I college hockey.

The former Austin Bruins forward hasn't changed much about his game since leaving Austin after the 2012-13 season.

He's just a couple years older and wiser.

"The coaches expect me to play a hard, simple game," said Simonson, who is three games into his freshman season with his hometown University of North Dakota team. "The base of my game is playing hard and simple. I have to have that grit to my game that coach (Chris) Tok taught me in Austin."

Simonson notched his first point as a college player last Saturday, when he assisted on a power-play goal by one of his teammates at Grand Forks (N.D.) Central High School, UND defenseman Paul LaDue. That came in a 7-2 win at Colorado College, playing against another former Bruin, Matt Hansen.


Simonson had chances in that game to score his first college goal, but he hit a pipe once and the crossbar once. UND coach Dave Hakstolsaid in a post-game radio interview that Simonson "kind of beat up the pipes, but when pucks are on his tape, they get off his tape really quickly. He's really good in that (top of the crease) area."

Simonson left Austin as its all-time leading goal scorer (52), a mark that was surpassed last season by Jay Dickman, who is now a freshman at Bemidji State.

After being a healthy scratch in No. 3-ranked North Dakota's 5-1 season-opening loss to Bemidji, Simonson was inserted into the lineup the following night, a 2-1 UND win at Bemidji. He hasn't left the lineup since and likely won't anytime soon. He said he was surprisingly calm when he stepped onto the ice for the first time playing for the team that he watched while growing up.

"I just felt pumped and ready to go," said Simonson, who finished his Bruins career with 105 points before collecting 59 points in 58 games for Lincoln (Neb.) of the USHL last season. "I was happy with my first game and thought I played two more strong games at CC last weekend."

Simonson was on the radar of Division I coaches during his two seasons in Austin, but the attention from college scouts heightened when he put up impressive numbers in Lincoln. Still, he said he owes a lot of his success to his former Bruins coaches and teammates.

"I learned a lot, a combination of a lot of little things in Austin that added up to make a huge difference," he said. "I don't stick out in any one area. I try to be a well-rounded player. That comes from the attention to details and the good habits I developed from coach Tok."

(Read the entire interview with Simonson on the Faceoff blog, at

Bruins atop balanced Central: Austin has won just once in its past six games, yet the Bruins remain in first place in the NAHL Central Division standings, with a 6-2-4 record. That goes to show how evenly matched the teams in the Central are this season. Five of those six games were decided by one goal, two in overtime and two in shootouts.


The first-place Bruins are separated in the division standings from last-place Brookings by just five points.

Austin plays host to Bismarck at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Riverside Arena, then steps out of division play for more than a month, until the last weekend in November.


Interesting weekend ahead

The Rochester Ice Hawks remained perfect (10-0) with last weekend's sweep, but there's an interesting weekend ahead.

The Ice Hawks travel to Isanti on Friday to face the lowly Minnesota Owls (2-10), and they return home Saturday for a crucial showdown against the Dells Ducks (12-2).

The Owls are having a rough season following the removal of head coach Travis Kuznia. He has been replaced by older brother Chad Kuznia. The Owls have been shut out or scored just one goal in 10 of their 12 games this season. They're playing without a full roster, and they had just 11 skaters available last weekend due to low numbers and suspensions.

The Ice Hawks, on the other hand, have 30 players on the roster right now, when everyone is healthy.


Knowing the Owls can be an overly physical team, bordering on dirty at times, Ice Hawks coach Nick Fatisdoesn't plan to take any chances Friday night.

"We will be experimenting with some new lines and some new systems," Fatis said. "I would expect pretty much everyone who is healthy to see some ice time this weekend. It's a big weekend for us with the Ducks in first place, and on the other end of the spectrum with the Owls. We are 10 games into the season, so we are reevaluating, making sure we are growing as a team. We are looking to solidify lines 3, 4 and 5."

In other words, watch for some of the top players to sit out Friday. The Ice Hawks hope to be at their best for Saturday's showdown.

"It's a tough balance," Fatis said. He doesn't want his team to take its foot off the gas pedal, but at the same time avoiding injuries Friday is key.

"We'll try some new stuff and do our best to play our game and not get suckered into anything risky," Fatis said.

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