Josh Giuliani bringing skill, grit to another big stage with Austin Bruins
Versatile forward played in three state high school tourneys, now in Robertson Cup
AUSTIN, Minn. — Steve Howard recognized from an early age what it takes to be successful in postseason hockey.
“Watch the NHL, there are a lot of really, really good teams that have really good players,” Howard said. “I grew up a Red Wings fan. When we lost some grit and some sandpaper, we didn’t go very far in the playoffs. They’d have good teams in the regular season, but the regular season doesn’t matter.
“In the playoffs, nobody can hide. Those goal-scorers who tear it up in the regular season, they’re going to get hit in the playoffs. That’s where you separate the boys from the men.”
Howard knows just where to look when his Austin Bruins team needs a jolt of "grit" and "sandpaper" — in other words, some physicality and maybe even a bit of nastiness — this season.
Rookie forward Josh Giuliani brings all of that, along with a goalscorer’s touch. That added dimension, shared by Giuliani’s linemates Austin Salani and Damon Furuseth, is a big reason why the Bruins are three wins away from a NAHL championship. They open play in the Robertson Cup national semifinals at 7 p.m. Friday against the Maryland Black Bears, in Game 1 of a best-of-3 series at Fogerty Arena in Blaine.
"'Jules' plays with pace, has some good speed and is really disruptive on the forecheck," Howard, in his sixth season as the Bruins head coach, said this week. "In the playoffs, he’s been really good for us because of that. He’ll get to the dirty areas, create turnovers and create offense.
"He can, obviously, score, too, with 20 goals as a rookie."
All of those attributes are why Howard couldn’t wait to pull the trigger on a trade with the Wisconsin Windigo just prior to this season, to bring Giuliani to Austin. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound winger wasn't overlooked, but was perhaps a less-recognized player on some ultra-talented Maple Grove teams that reached the Class AA high school state tournament in his three seasons on the varsity.
Playing alongside high-scoring Division I prospects such as Henry Nelson (Notre Dame commit), Kyle Kukkonen (Michigan Tech), Landen Gunderson (Western Michigan) and Finn Brink (Wisconsin), Giuliani was more than happy to play his role — doing whatever his coaches asked.
Giuliani showed off his full 200-foot game in the 2022 state tournament, opening eyes across the state with three consecutive four-point games. After a two-goal, two-assist game in a quarterfinal win against Edina, the Maple Grove captain had a hat trick and an assist in both the state semifinals and championship game, which the Crimson lost in overtime against Andover.
“The experience, it was just phenomenal,” Giuliani said of getting to play in The Tourney. “You don’t remember too much about it because you’re in the moment and just playing. That really prepared me for this season and I think this (postseason) will be another good year.”
True to his nature as a player — and what he’s shown in Austin this year — Giuliani drew more praise and media attention as a senior for his defensive play in the state tournament, as opposed to his 12-point performance in three games.
In the state semifinals, Giuliani drew the assignment of containing Prior Lake forward Alex Bump, Minnesota's Associated Press boys hockey Player of the Year in 2022. Bump — who, like Giuliani’s current teammate Jack Malinski, is committed to the University of Vermont — had five goals and one assist in Prior Lake's state quarterfinal win. But Giuliani held him in check in the semis; Bump had just one goal in a 6-2 loss to Giuliani’s Crimson.
“I started the game with maybe not the nicest words in the world to him,” Giuliani said with a smile in a post-game press conference.
Maple Grove coach Todd Bergland then added: “Everyone was asking me, 'Are you going to shadow Bump?' Why (would I), when I've got Jules? Josh has a way of getting under the skin."
Giuliani had planned to start his junior hockey career in Richfield, Minn., with the Minnesota Magicians. But the Magicians moved to Eagle River, Wis., approximately 270 miles northeast of Minneapolis, after last season. Then, the Windigo traded him to the Bruins shortly before this season.
"They had too many right-shot wingers and we were able to trade with them," Howard said about what might be one of the best trades he’s made in his time as the Bruins’ coach and GM.
Giuliani has played his game, and his role, to near perfection this season. He had 20 goals and 15 assists while playing in all 60 regular season games — the only Bruins player to do so. He’s added two goals and four assists in seven playoff games so far.
He has excelled as — no surprise here — the "grit" guy on Austin’s second line, along with veteran center Austin Salani and skilled winger Damon Furuseth.
“Our line has a bit of everything,” Giuliani said. “I think me and Austin, we maybe get on pucks harder. Then you have Damon, the silkiest guy ever. He has a lot of speed. Salani can score a lot, too. We literally have everything on our line and it’s all come together.”
Howard has liked what he’s seen from that trio, too. They’ve combined for eight goals and 17 points in the playoffs, while often shutting down the opposing team’s top players.
“Salani takes a lot of draws, does a little of everything; he’s a Swiss Army Knife for us,” Howard said. "'Jules' has that grit; he’ll get into the corners and battle. He and Salani are very similar. Damon has a lot of skill, will get us into the zone and create plays; he can make a defenseman look dumb if they’re watching the puck.
“Mix Damon’s skill with (Giuliani and Salani’s) grit and sandpaper that they bring every night, and it’s a good combination.”