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Austin Bruins captain Jack Malinski headed east to play at Division I Vermont

Jack Malinski had a handful of Division I suitors. In the end, the Lakeville native and Austin Bruins captain chose the school that had pursued him for two years.

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Austin Bruins captain Jack Malinski, a Lakeville South graduate, has committed to play Division I college hockey at the University of Vermont. The standout defenseman has 26 points in 26 games for the Bruins this season.
Contributed / Dave Tester, Austin Bruins

AUSTIN, Minn. — Jack Malinski flew from Minneapolis to Burlington, Vt., on Jan. 2 to take an official visit with the University of Vermont’s men’s hockey team.

As Malinski’s flight was descending into the airport in Burlington, the second-year Austin Bruins defenseman and team captain gazed out his window, one thought going around and around in his mind.

“As we were flying in, I could see mountains to the right and to the left, and Lake Champlain right there,” Malinski said. “I’m a big outdoorsman. I love the mountains, lakes, rivers. I love fly fishing. It’s an awesome setup. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Malinski’s visit only got better from there.

After touring the campus, which is home to nearly 12,000 students, and seeing the hockey facilities — the Catamounts’ home ice, Gutterson Arena, bears a resemblance to Riverside Arena in Austin, only with dozens of rows of bleachers on each end — Malinski was hooked, much like the fish he hopes to pull out of Lake Champlain, which borders Burlington to the west.

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Vermont’s coaching staff was hooked, too.

They’d been attempting to get Malinski to become a Catamount for more than two years, since he guided Lakeville South to the Class AA high school state championship game in 2021. The Cougars suffered a heartbreaking double-OT loss to Eden Prairie in that game, but the silver lining for Malinski was the exposure he received to big-time college and pro scouts.

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Jack Malinski

“I’m very happy for him and his family,” said Austin coach Steve Howard, whose staff had recruited Malinski and signed him to an NAHL tender during that 2020-21 season. “Jack’s a kid who wasn’t in the (Upper Midwest) High School Elite League. He wasn’t praised as a big guy to watch coming out of high school hockey. … It was nice that he and his team got to the state final, then he didn’t sit around. He was in our lineup the very next weekend.”

Malinski hasn’t left that lineup since. Nor has Vermont left him alone.

After a five-goal, 21-point season last year as an NAHL rookie, there was a time when Malinski and Howard thought the Catamounts coaching staff would ask Malinski to commit and come to campus in the fall of 2022. But Vermont was able to bring in a pair of European defensemen as well as graduate student transfer Eric Gotz (a Hermantown native) of Michigan Tech.

“That allowed me to have this extra year here in Austin,” Malinski said. “(The commitment) is a huge weight off my shoulders. It allows me to play the game, to just go out and play hockey. I don’t have to worry about being scratched off a scout’s list during a game.

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"It helps my confidence. (Vermont coaches) can help me along the way, as well as coach Howard; they can provide that extra support the rest of the way this season.”

Fittingly, the Bruins have often gone as Malinski, their leader, has gone this year. It’s a season that has been overwhelmingly positive to this point. After sweeping rival Aberdeen last weekend in Austin, the Bruins (21-5-7 overall) stretched their lead in the NAHL Central Division to 11 points over second-place Minot and 12 over third-place Aberdeen.

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The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Malinski, who turned 20 last June, has rarely left the ice, playing at five-on-five and on both specialty teams. The Catamounts’ coaches eyes popped when they saw Malinski’s numbers: He averages nearly 28 minutes of ice time per game.

He also possesses many of the same traits that his older brother Sam, a senior captain at Cornell University this season, possesses. Sam Malinski played against Howard and the Bruins in the 2018-19 season, when Sam was the NAHL Central Division Defenseman of the Year, playing for the Bismarck Bobcats.

“Jack is a puck-moving defenseman,” Howard said of Malinski, who has three goals and 23 assists in 26 games this season. “He gets us out of the zone. He really benefits from his vision and his hockey sense, those are his best assets. He can see the ice so well and make outlet passes to get us out of our zone quickly. The same goes in the offensive zone. Sam was really good at getting shots through traffic and to the net, and Jack has that same ability.”

Sam is one of a handful of people who Jack Malinski leaned on during his recruitment and decision-making process. Howard, as well as Bruins assistant coaches Hampus Sjodahl and Justin Fisher, and former Bruin Jens Richards — now a freshman forward at Vermont — also helped and talked Malinski through the process.

In the end, though, the decision belonged to Jack, and his three boxes were checked: An up-and-coming program where he’ll have a chance to earn ice time immediately (Vermont loses three right-shot defensemen after this season); a university with a great business program (the Grossman School of Business has been ranked among the top 25 in the country); and a city in close proximity to great fly-fishing.

Malinski will also be going to play for a staff that has experience and success at the Division I and higher levels. Catamounts head coach Todd Woodcroft has coached with five NHL teams before becoming Vermont’s coach three years ago. Assistant coach Stephen Wiedler was the Associate Head Coach at perennial Atlantic Hockey title contender American International College before joining the Catamounts staff in the 2020-21 season.

Vermont, which plays in the ever-powerful Hockey East, is 7-12-2 this season.

“Jack had two (college) visits lined up,” Howard said. “He went out (to Vermont) and called me from there. He said ‘I’m not going to take the other visit.’ He was impressed by Burlington and by the coaching staff there.

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"When you have a coach on you and wanting you for two years, that speaks volumes. Jack wanted to go where he felt wanted.”

Bruins headed to D1

A look at current Austin Bruins players committed to Division I college programs

PLAYERPOS.SCHOOL
Jack MalinskiDU. of Vermont
Gavin MorrisseyFMSU, Mankato
Ethan RobertsonGCanisius College
Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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