A week in advance of their main tryout camp, the Austin Bruins added six players to the team in Tuesday’s North American Hockey League Draft.
The Bruins drafted two defensemen and four forwards, including using their last two selections on a forward with great hockey bloodlines and another who is quite familiar to high school hockey fans in southeastern Minnesota.
Austin coaches Steve Howard and Keegan Asmundson and director of player personnel Aaron Venasky used the team’s sixth-round selection on Rochester Century forward Gavin Gunderson, who graduated last month. One way or another, the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Gunderson will likely play in the Bears family in 2020-21, as he has signed a North American 3 Hockey League tender with the Rochester Grizzlies. He is one of three Grizzlies selected in Tuesday’s NAHL Draft.
Despite missing all or parts of several games in late December and early January, Gunderson finished his senior season at Century with 25 goals and 31 assists, for 56 points. He is the Panthers’ second-leading all-time scorer, with 140 points, just four behind his classmate and long-time linemate Joey Malugani (144). Malugani has signed a tender to play with Austin’s NAHL Central Division rival Bismarck Bobcats and he was a draft pick of the Rochester Grizzlies.
One round prior to Gunderson’s selection, the Bruins picked 5-9, 145-pound forward Mason Poolman from East Grand Forks. Like Gunderson, Poolman graduated last month after a successful high school career. He helped the Green Wave go 20-5-2 last season and reach the Section 8A championship game. On a team featuring a handful of Division I recruits or prospects, Poolman was a solid point-per-player game, recording nine goals and 27 points as a senior. He was at his best late in the season, recording five points in three playoff games. Poolman is the youngest of three hockey-playing brothers in his family. His oldest brother Tucker won a national championship with the University of North Dakota in 2016 and currently plays for the Winnipeg Jets, while their middle brother Colton recently finished a four-year career at North Dakota and has signed with the Calgary Flames.
The Bruins opened their 2020 draft by going to a familiar place. They selected 6-foot, 170-pound center Alex Trombley with the No. 18 overall selection. The Ohio State University commit is from Howell, Mich., the same hometown as three-year Bruins defenseman Jed Pietila, who’ll be a freshman at Michigan Tech this fall. Trombley played in eight games for the USHL’s Madison Capitols last season. He also played in 27 games for Austin’s rival Bismarck Bobcats in the 2017-18 season, scoring five goals.
Austin addressed the blue line with a pair of left-shot defensemen with its second and third selections. The Bruins drafted 5-11, 165-pounder Therien Thiesing with the 45th overall selection, then added Rosemount High School standout Garrett Horsager with their first pick of the fourth round, No. 93 overall.
Thiesing, a 17-year-old from Franklin Park, Ill., has worked his way up through the Chicago Mission AAA program the past four seasons. Horsager, who goes 6-0, 170 pounds, graduated from Rosemount High School last month. He had 16 points as a senior, including 15 assists, and had 31 points in his three-season varsity career.
Six picks after taking Horsager, the Bruins selected 5-8, 170-pound forward Jimmy Akouri from West Bloomfield, Mich. The 19-year-old Akouri played the past two seasons for the Compuware AAA 18U team in Detroit, averaging nearly a point per game.
Two more Grizzlies go
In addition to the Bruins’ selection of Gunderson, the Rochester Grizzlies had two more players selected in Tuesday’s NAHL Draft.
Rochester native Dylan Schneider was drafted by the Minot Minotauros, with whom he spent close to half of last season. Schneider came to the Grizzlies to rehab an injury and excelled. He recorded 13 points in seven games, including a four-point debut with the team in mid-January. Schneider was drafted No. 98 overall.
Grizzlies forward Hunter Wilmes was also picked in the NAHL Draft, going with the 13th pick in the 12th round to the Minnesota Wilderness. Wilmes, a St. Peter native, led Minnesota River to its first-ever Class A state tournament appearance in 2019, then recorded 25 points in 31 games for the Grizzlies last season, when he also appeared in nine games for the Austin Bruins.
Liffrig is 1st Minnesotan selected
Mankato East standout forward Layten Liffrig was the first Minnesota player selected in Tuesday’s draft, going No. 12 overall to the Richfield-based Minnesota Magicians. Liffrig recorded 32 goals and 74 points for the Cougars last season, guiding them to the Section 1A championship and a Class A state tournament berth. He finished his varsity career with 66 goals and 132 points.
Liffrig was the only Minnesota out of 27 players drafted in the first round Tuesday.
In all, 35 Minnesotans were drafted, including five in the second round: Faribault native Andy Stoneman (No. 33, Northeast Generals); Tyler Kostelecky of Maple Grove (No. 39, Minot); Carter Clafton of Grand Rapids (No. 40, Danbury); CJ Zins of St. Cloud Cathedral (No. 42, Springfield); and Bloomington native Joey Dosan, who plays for Steinbach of the Manitoba Junior League (No. 44, Minot)
Clafton’s selection is among the more noteworthy. He put up outstanding numbers as a senior at Grand Rapids, going 18-8-1 with a 1.35 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. He was one of three finalists for the Frank Brimsek award, given to Minnesota’s top senior goalie. That award was presented to Hudson Hodges of Moorhead, who was drafted by the Austin Bruins in the NAHL Supplemental Draft in mid-May.