Junior Hockey: Bruins blank Bobcats again
AUSTIN— Easton Viitala learned early in the season what he was going to have to do if he wanted to be a contributor and a leader for the Austin Bruins.
Viitala, a second-year Bruins center, has not only accepted his role, he has worked diligently to excel at it.
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound 20-year-old from Marquette, Mich., showed his value on Saturday. Viitala won a handful of key faceoffs and was a leader on the penalty kill, blocking shots and clearing the zone at least three times.
The NAHL Central Division-leading Bruins needed every "little" play like that in a 1-0 victory against their biggest rival, the Bismarck Bobcats, in front of 1,286 fans at Riverside Arena.
"That has to be his 'M.O.' to have success on this team," Bruins coach Chris Tok said. "That's his bread-and-butter — winning faceoffs, finding pucks and clearing the zone (on the penalty kill)."
With the victory, Austin (14-4-0) extends its lead in the division to seven points over the Bobcats (10-5-1) and the Aberdeen Wings, who lost 2-1 to the Minnesota Wilderness on Saturday.
The Bruins earned their second consecutive shutout against the Bobcats, who have knocked Austin out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Austin beat Bismarck 3-0 on Friday. The Bobcats managed just 37 total shots over the two games and were 0-for-13 on power-play opportunities.
"It was mostly keeping it simple on the penalty kill," said Viitala, who has two goals and three assists in 17 games this season. "(Bismarck) moved the puck around really well on the power play to try to set up some back-door passes. We got our sticks in the middle and tried not to run around too much."
Austin's defense had one of its best performances of the season, allowing just 17 shots. Goalie Nick Lehr stopped them all and was the game's No. 1 star. That came on the heels of Justin Quale's 20-save shutout on Friday.
Tok said the Bruins' goalies were the team's top players over the weekend, not allowing Bismarck second chances by smothering the puck or steering rebounds into the corners or out of play.
"I thought our goalies deserved all three stars," Tok said. "(Bismarck) had a lot of puck possession time in our end.
"The most we competed all night was on the penalty kill. … There was a lot of lazy hockey tonight."
It took nearly 50 minutes for a goal to be scored.
Trey Dodd notched the game-winner at 10:20 of the third, scoring off a faceoff. Dodd's second goal as a Bruin and second in as many nights came from the low slot, hit the pipe to Nelson's left and went in.
Bismarck was unable to pull goalie Aaron Nelson (23 saves) until less than 30 seconds remained and the Bobcats didn't get a quality scoring chance in the closing seconds.
"These two wins, especially coming off a tough loss (Wednesday at the Minnesota Wilderness) are great," Viitala said. "Nick played an amazing game. He kept us in there and we had sound defense and a great team effort."
Austin plays a home-and-home series against Brookings next weekend. Friday's game is at Brookings at 7:15 p.m., while Saturday's game is at Riverside Arena at 7:05 p.m.
Bruins 1, Bobcats 0
First period— no scoring. Second period— no scoring. Third period— 1. A, Trey Dodd 2 (Luke Dietsch 6, Eli May 3) 10:20.
Shots on goal— B 5-3-9—17, A 8-7-9—24. Goalies— B, Aaron Nelson (L, 9-5-1; 23 saves); A, Nick Lehr (W, 12-2-0; 17 saves). Power-play opportunities— B 0-for-6; A 0-for-5. Penalties— B, 7-22 minutes; A, 7-14 minutes.
Time— 2:02. Att.— 1,286.