'This is the place for me': Another Austin Bruin headed to Division I
Jens Richards was a standout for two seasons with the Northstar Christian Academy team in Alexandria, then for two seasons with the Austin Bruins. On Friday, he accomplished another goal by committing to play Division I college hockey at the University of Vermont.
A week ago, Jens Richards wasn’t sure where the next stop on his hockey path would be.
The Callaway, Minn., native and former Northstar Christian Academy (Alexandria) standout spent the past two seasons with the Austin Bruins.
A return to Austin for a third season was an option for Richards, who had 26 goals and 55 points in 103 games for the Bruins from 2020-22. He had plenty of interest from college coaches and scouts, too.
Then Richards’ phone rang on Monday.
Less than 24 hours later he was on a Zoom call with head coach Todd Woodcroft and assistant coaches Stephen Wiedler and Scott Moser from the University of Vermont. The Catamounts had an expected incoming freshman decide to step away from hockey, which freed up a roster spot and a hefty amount of scholarship money.
By the end of that call, the 6-feet-2, 195-pound Richards was convinced he wanted to become a Catamount.
“I had a great call with the coaching staff and learned a lot about the Vermont program and the great things they have happening there,” Richards said. “I’m really impressed with (Woodcroft’s) resume and the kind of coach he is. I’m excited to learn from him.
“I’m 100 percent confident it’s the place for me.”
Richards made his decision official on Friday morning from his home near Detroit Lakes, as the Bruins’ tryout camp for the 2022-23 season was wrapping up at Riverside Arena.
Richards will head to Burlington, Vermont — approximately 100 miles south of Montreal — in the fall. Woodcroft, a former assistant coach with the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets, is entering his third season at Vermont, where he has posted a 9-35-4 record as he attempts to turn the program in the right direction.
The Catamounts’ coaching staff believes Richards can be a key component of that process.
“Wiedler told Jens that he’ll be there, there’s a spot for him,” Austin Bruins coach Steve Howard said. “It’s not a question of if he’ll fit in the lineup there. He’s going to play. That reassured Jens that it’s the right move for him and he’s excited to be heading there.”
Richards said he had long conversations with his parents and his older brother, Jon, who played for the Bruins late in the 2015-16 season and all of the 2016-17 season. Jon then played a season at Division I RPI before spending the past four seasons at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
“My family was a huge help,” Jens Richards said. “My brother went through the same process as I did, so we had some long talks. He just wanted to be sure that I’m ready and he said he 100 percent thinks I am.”
Prior to his time in Austin, Jens Richards played two seasons at Northstar Christian, where he scored 56 goals and 117 points in 118 career games. He said all of the steps he’s taken in his hockey career — as well as all of the coaches he’s played for and the team leaders he’s played with — have helped him get to this point.
I am extremely excited and blessed to announce my commitment to play division 1 hockey and further my education at the university of Vermont! I’d like to thank God, my family, and everyone who has helped me along this journey! #catamounts @UVMmhockey pic.twitter.com/eKhee4dC7c— Jens Richards (@Jensrichards14) July 1, 2022
“Being in Austin was a huge help to me,” he said. “I wasn’t in the lineup a ton my first year there, but I got better and learned from the older guys who helped me. That gave me a lot of confidence going into my second year there.”
Richards played multiple key roles for the Bruins last season, as they reached the NAHL playoffs for the first time since 2019 and had home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 2018, Howard’s first season as head coach.
“We’re proud of Jens,” Howard said. "He's dedicated and hard-working, both on and off the ice, and a great locker room leader. He is going to do great things at Vermont."