From 'no looks' to no doubt, former Fargo Davies goalie Trent Wiemken is stabilizing force for Austin Bruins
After an outstanding high school hockey career, only one of the 29 teams in the NAHL offered Trent Wiemken a chance to try out. The Austin Bruins couldn't be happier that they are that team.
AUSTIN, Minn. — Trent Wiemken’s coaches couldn’t understand it.
Nothing the goaltender had accomplished over his three seasons at Fargo Davies High School seemed to matter. His stats didn’t matter. His work ethic didn’t matter. The “C” he wore on his jersey for two years as the Eagles’ captain didn’t seem to matter.
Despite backstopping Davies to the North Dakota high school state championship game as a senior in February 2022, and despite posting a 23-4-0 record (10 shutouts), a 1.40 goals-against average and an outstanding .930 save percentage, Wiemken went almost completely ignored by Tier I and Tier II junior hockey teams.
The 6-foot, 180-pounder didn’t get offered a tender — which almost always guarantees a roster spot — and he wasn’t selected in the 16 rounds of the NAHL Draft. He didn’t so much as receive an invitation to a tryout camp from any of the league’s 29 teams. Except for one.
“That kid has been told ‘no’ or that he’s too small or that he’s not good enough,” Austin Bruins head coach Steve Howard said. “He didn’t get tendered or drafted, but we heard he was a pretty good goalie, so … we brought him to camp and he ran with it.
“He’s a guy who just has that fire in his eyes to prove people wrong, and I hope he keeps doing that.”
Wiemken was a late addition to the Bruins’ main tryout camp, one of eight goalies at the week-long camp last summer, and one the coaching staff knew the least about.
His invitation came with no guarantees. Veteran Ethan Robertson was locked in to return to the Bruins this season as the team’s likely No. 1 starter. Klayton Knapp, who played in 31 games for Austin last season, and Nick Erickson, who was drafted by Tri-City of the USHL, were also planning to play for the Bruins if they were cut by their USHL teams.
Wiemken landed the tryout in Austin thanks in large part to Rochester Grizzlies assistant coach Tyler Veen, a Fargo native who had seen him play during the 2021-22 high school season. Veen checks in often with Carter Krier, who runs Edge Goaltending in Fargo and is the goalie coach for the Fargo Force of the USHL. Wiemken happens to be an Edge client, and worked closely with Krier throughout his high school career.
“His game, his structure, his compete and his drive to get better,” Krier said about what sets Wiemken apart. “He’s a kid who’s willing to put in the work. That makes my job easy. He constantly wants to get better. He has all those intangibles.”
Krier’s endorsement was all that Howard and Bruins goalie coach Nick Lehr needed to hear. Krier also worked with Zach Sandy, a goalie from Fargo South High School who was a pain in the Bruins’ side during the 2021-22 season, when Sandy played for the Minot (N.D.) Minotauros, one of Austin’s NAHL Central Division rivals. Sandy now plays Division I college hockey at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“Zach was in the same situation after his senior year; he didn’t have a ton of offers,” Krier said. “Trent didn’t have a ton of looks, either, so we reached out to try to get him some opportunities. He’s like Zach, a guy up here who didn’t get a lot of looks, but you put him on that bigger stage and he can perform.”
When Knapp and Erickson stuck with their respective USHL teams to start this season, the Bruins needed a guy to back up Robertson, to watch and learn from the Canisius College commit who has played in 44 career games for the Bruins.
After an impressive tryout camp, Wiemken became that guy.
“There are no spots guaranteed in this league until that trade deadline passes and rosters are frozen (in February),” Wiemken said, “so I came in and worked my hardest each and every day. I knew we had (Robertson) here and he was going to be the guy. But, whenever I would be called upon, I wanted to be ready and give the guys a shot to win.”
He has done exactly that.
Wiemken has been a surprise blessing this season for the Bruins, with Robertson sidelined more than once for long stretches due to injuries and illnesses.
Austin (33-14-9 overall) hasn’t skipped a beat with Wiemken in goal. He is 18-6-4, with a 2.08 goals-against average (fifth-best in the NAHL) and a .917 save percentage. He was in goal for Austin’s biggest win of the season to-date, when he stopped 33 shots, then all three he faced in a shootout, to give the Bruins a 3-2 win against St. Cloud on March 25 at Riverside Arena in Austin.
The win clinched the Bruins’ first regular-season division title since 2015. After using his blocker to deflect aside St. Cloud’s final shootout attempt, Wiemken’s fiery and confident personality came through, as he imitated the Billionaire Strut made famous by UFC mixed martial arts superstar Conor McGregor. With arms at his side, swinging forward and backward, Wiemken made it from his crease almost to the blue line before his teammates mobbed him.
That’s how you win and celebrate a NAHL Central Division championship. @theaustinbruins goalie Trent Wiemken stops all 3 shots in the shootout. Bs beat St. Cloud and clinch the division championship pic.twitter.com/I5975CwtjM— Jason Feldman (@PBFeldy) March 26, 2023
“When I made the save and saw the guys coming to dogpile me a bit, heard the crowd going crazy and all the cowbells, it was awesome,” Wiemken said. “I’ve done that (strut) a little bit this year. Conor McGregor does the arm-swing thing. I’ve done that a couple times and the guys seem to get a chuckle out of it.”
That’s what Krier — Wiemken’s off-season goalie coach in North Dakota — likes so much about him: He has the poise that all great goalies need, but knows when to use his emotional side to his advantage.
“He lives on the edge, on the fence,” Krier said, “but he doesn’t go over it. That’s what makes him great, his competitiveness and his drive. That fire that’s lit under him, it makes him compete and want to be the best.
“There are calm and collected (goalies) and there are emotional goalies. He has the best of both worlds.”
Wiemken’s value hasn’t been lost on his teammates, either.
“He’s been awesome,” Bruins defenseman and captain Jack Malinski, a University of Vermont commit, said. “If he doesn’t have his best game, he’ll work extra hard the next week and we all see that. He’s just getting better and better each game.
“The best thing you can have in the playoffs is a hot goalie, and he’s been hot for us.”
Like all of his teammates in the Bruins’ locker room, Wiemken’s goal is to play college hockey. His mind is fully on the here and now, though.
“Everyone on the team is itching for the playoffs to come around,” he said. “We’re really excited for that. I love coming to the rink every day with these guys. We have a great group in that locker room. It’s been an awesome season so far.”