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Junior hockey: Rochester's Kautz lifts Wilderness past Austin Bruins for NAHL title

AUSTIN — Brock Kautz imagined what it might be like to hoist the Robertson Cup.He didn't imagine playing as well as he did to win it.

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AUSTIN — Brock Kautz imagined what it might be like to hoist the Robertson Cup.

He didn't imagine playing as well as he did to win it.

That's saying something, considering the Rochester native and current Minnesota Wilderness goalie entered the North American Hockey League's championship series, the Robertson Cup Finals, on a seven-game winning streak.

Kautz, a former Rochester Century standout, allowed one goal in nine-plus periods of play over two games here to help the Wilderness sweep the Austin Bruins in two games for the NAHL national championship, in just their second season in the league.

"I just tried to do everything I could, make the first save and make the saves I needed to," he said. "Our team was playing really well coming in and I knew they'd back me up. They stood up for me all year, I just tried to do my part."

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Kautz, in his fifth year in the NAHL, closed his junior hockey career in the best possible fashion.

He stopped 73 of the 74 shots he faced in the two games against Austin, including all 26 in Saturday's 4-0 Wilderness victory in Game 2 at Riverside Arena. His first playoff shutout came on the heels of a 47-save performance in Friday's marathon Game 1, which the Wilderness won 2-1 more than 13 minutes into the fourth overtime, the longest game in NAHL history.

"It's a pretty special feeling to finally win this, to do it in my last year in the (NAHL) after five years," he said. "It's incredible."

The Wilderness took control of the game late in the second period, when Ian Mansfield and Brett Heikkila scored 2:07 apart in the final five minutes of the period.

"It was huge," Kautz said of the Wilderness scoring first. "(Friday) night was a long game and both teams were tired. They came out with more of an edge and pushed the pace pretty good. To get on the board first and get their fans out of it is pretty big."

Heikkila scored again with 3:36 to go in regulation and Niklas Lehtimaki added an empty-net goal for the Wilderness with 1:44 left to cap the scoring.

The Wilderness became the first team from Minnesota to capture the Robertson Cup in its 39-year history.

The Bruins finished as the national runners-up for a second consecutive season. Last year, they were swept in the Robertson Cup Finals at Fairbanks. This year, they became the first team since Fairbanks in 2010 and 2011 to reach the Cup finals for a second consecutive season.

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Austin lost all but five players off last year's runner-up team, and didn't look like a national championship team in late November, after winning just six games in a 20-game span. But the Bruins jelled after Christmastime and went 21-3-3 down the stretch, then won three playoff series to reach the Cup finals.

"It was a long shot for us to even be here and be clawing for the Robertson Cup again," Bruins coach Chris Tok said. "This group rebounded and did everything in our power to win it. We fell short and it's really tough. ... This team accomplished a lot."

Related Topics: NAHL
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