Smart guy: Malinski ready to take over as captain of Austin Bruins
Jack Malinski's coaches say his best on-ice trait is his Hockey IQ. The Lakeville South graduate showed that in spades last season for the Austin Bruins. It's part of what made him so well-liked in the locker room, and it's a big reason why -- following the Bruins' main tryout camp this week -- he's been named the Bruins' captain for 2022-23.
AUSTIN — Steve Howard asked all of his players a question during their exit interviews at the end of last season: Who should our captain be in 2022-23?
“Every one of the veterans who moved on, every single one of them said the same thing: ‘Jack’s your captain,’” said Howard, who is entering his sixth season as head coach of the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League. “He will be our captain this season, and it wasn’t like 90 percent of them saying it. It was 100 percent of the guys who moved on and the guys who are returning. They all said, ‘Jack’s the captain.’”
That Malinski, a 2021 Lakeville South High School graduate, will wear the “C” for the Bruins this coming season speaks volumes about the impact he had on the team in his first season.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound defenseman played in 58 of Austin’s 63 games in 2021-22, helping the Bruins get back to the NAHL playoffs for the first time since 2019. Malinski recorded six goals and 24 total points, and anchored the team’s second power-play unit by season’s end.
But his value goes far beyond the box score, as he showed with his leadership throughout this week as the Bruins held their main tryout camp at Riverside Arena. After Friday night’s camp All-Star Game, cuts were made, players were offered spots on the team and the framework of the 2022-23 Bruins roster is in place.
Malinski is a key piece to Austin’s puzzle.
“He’s a smart defenseman,” Howard said. “He sees the ice well, he understands the game, he’s willing to block a shot, bring some offensive flair. He can defend, too. He’s not the biggest guy, but he can defend so well against big guys, which is a tough thing.
“I was always trying to figure out how to defend a 6-foot-5 guy and Jack does that better than I ever did. That’s what he hangs his hat on, being a good all-around defenseman, and his smarts are what separate him from the next guy.”
Malinski got his first taste of the NAHL in the spring of 2021, just days after his Lakeville South team suffered a heart-breaking 2-1 double-overtime loss to Eden Prairie in the Class AA state championship game at the Xcel Energy Center. He had 30 points in 23 games as a senior, then played in five games (recording one assist) with the Bruins at the end of their regular season.
“The biggest (adjustment) I remember is time and space,” said Malinski, who turned 20 on June 23. “In high school, you have a lot more time and space than you think. It doesn’t feel like a whole lot, though. Then you get to the NAHL and you’re like … there’s always guys around me, always a hard forecheck coming at you.
“It’s kind of ridiculous how fast the pace is. Finishing my senior year here really helped. I got that little bit of experience, then did what I had to do over the summer.”
Malinski excelled at the Bruins’ summer camp a year ago, not only making the camp All-Star Game, but showing with his vision, skill, poise and hockey IQ, that he was one of the best defensemen on the ice.
This year’s camp was a bit easier, a bit more comfortable for the veteran blue-liner, who could start the season as the only returning defenseman on the Bruins roster. Four of the defensmen who were on the Bruins’ roster for their loss to Aberdeen in a first-round playoff series back in April had their junior hockey eligibility expire. Another, Braidan Simmons-Fischer is moving on to play Division I college hockey at St. Thomas.
And though Austin has brought in a handful of talented veteran defensemen from other leagues — including Mankato native Nate Looft, a hard-hitting 20-year-old who spent last season in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League — Malinski will be looked at early and often to keep the defensive corps, and all of his teammates, focused.
“It’ll be a lot of mental check-ins, a lot of on-ice stuff, speed-wise, moving the puck up the ice quickly and learning the systems,” Malinski said. “There’s going to be a lot of teaching moments, but I’m excited to do that because that’s what the older guys did for me last year.”
The Bruins will report for training camp in early September, with the 2022-23 season set to begin Sept. 14-17 at the NAHL Showcase in Blaine.