The Austin Bruins had figured out what it takes to win in the North American Hockey League by mid-March, when the 2019-20 season was suspended, and later canceled, due to the coronavirus. The Bruins were 6-3-1 in their 10 games prior to the shutdown and had earned points in five of their last six games.
How do they carry that momentum into the 2020-21 season? It starts this week, when close to 100 players descend upon Austin for the team’s summer tryout camp. That number will be cut down by about 60 percent by Friday night, when the remaining 40-plus prospects are divided into two teams for the camp All-Star Game at Riverside Arena.
Like every season, the Bruins will have some holes to fill, with players having moved on to college hockey, including the franchise’s most prolific scorer, forward Dante Sheriff. The shifty and skilled forward is headed to Mercyhurst University this fall after setting franchise records in points (158) and assists (106), and recording the second-most goals in Bruins history (52).
This week’s camp is one way the Bruins will look to plug some gaps on the roster with talented players. They also added six players through last week’s NAHL Draft. It’s possible that not all six will end up on the Bruins 2020-21 roster, but here’s a look at how each of them could help the team if they do make the roster:
ALEX TROMBLEY, CENTER
Trombley is a 2001-born left-shot centerman who is committed to play Division I college hockey at Ohio State University. He has bounced around considerably over the past three seasons, including playing 27 games in the NAHL with the Bruins’ Central Division rival Bismarck Bobcats in 2017-18, when he scored five goals. He has also played 11 games in the USHL over the past two seasons, including eight with Madison last year, recording one assist. He has good size, at 6-feet, 170 pounds and scouting reports consistently praise his passing ability and compete level on every shift. Trombley is listed on multiple recruiting sites as being a member of OSU’s 2020-21 freshman class, but the Buckeyes have not posted an official roster for next season, and Trombley still has a year of junior hockey eligibility remaining. Trombley hails from Howell, Mich. The Bruins have had good luck with Michigan players over the past two years in the NAHL Draft, including Hugh Larkin (Western Michigan commit), Carson Riddle (Western Michigan) and Dylan Davies (RPI).
THERIEN THIESING, DEFENSEMAN
Thiesing is just 17 years old; he doesn’t turn 18 until early January, but he has steadily grown -- both physically and in terms of his play -- over his four seasons in the Chicago Mission AAA program. He started with Mission’s U13 team in 2016-17 and has advanced one level per season since. He’s not afraid to use his size (he’s 5-11, 165 pounds), though he’d be going against some players who are more than three years older than him in the NAHL. Last year he recorded four goals and 46 penalty minutes in 17 games. Thiesing is a left-shot defenseman, a trait that many of the Bruins’ best d-men in recent years have shared. Last season, three of the team’s top-four scoring defensemen were lefties (Josef Mysak, Jed Pietila, Cullen Rush). In 2018-19, the top-four scoring defensemen were left shots (Pietila, Lane Krenzen, Mysak, Spencer Kimball).
GARRETT HORSAGER, DEFENSEMAN
The Bruins went back to the blue line with the selection of Horsager (Round 4, No. 93 overall), who has a similar build to Thiesing, at 6-0, 170 pounds. Horsager, 18, is also a left-shot defenseman. He didn’t score a ton of goals in his three varsity seasons for Rosemount High School, but he played in all situations for the Irish and led the team with five power-play assists. Horsager will bring some grit, too. He’s battle-tested, having played in the South Suburban Conference against teams such as Prior Lake, Burnsville and the Lakeville schools. He helped the Irish go 20-7-0 last season, falling to state semifinalist St. Thomas Academy 3-1 in the Section 3AA semifinals.
JIMMY AKOURI, FORWARD
Six picks after drafting Horsager, Austin went back up front with Akouri, a 19-year-old center/wing who was a point-per-game player for Detroit Compuware AAA’s U18 team in 2019-20. Akouri brings good size and strength for his height (5-8, 170). Multiple scouting reports refer to Akouri as “imaginative” and “creative” with the puck and he has the ability to find open lanes and get to the net by using his speed.
MASON POOLMAN, FORWARD
Poolman comes from a hockey family. At 5-feet-9, 145 pounds he has yet to grow to the size of his older brothers, Tucker and Colton, but his vision and hockey IQ are on par with his siblings. Mason, who graduated from East Grand Forks Senior High last month, helped the Green Wave reach the Class A state tournament in his junior season. His high school coach, Tyler Palmiscno, said: "When he's moving his feet, he has the ability to make plays. He kind of reminds me a lot of Tucker at that age, just that you can see there's a very good hockey player there, just not yet physically mature and confidence is something. It was the same thing with Tucker. When they understand how good they are, they can be really good players." Tucker, Mason Poolman’s oldest brother, won an NCAA Division I title with North Dakota in 2016 and now plays for the Winnipeg Jets. Their middle brother, Colton, finished a four-year career at North Dakota in March and signed with the Calgary Flames. Mason had 50 points in 82 career games for East Grand Forks, including 43 points in 56 games over his final two seasons.
GAVIN GUNDERSON, FORWARD
The Bruins made certain that Gunderson, a 2020 Rochester Century grad and the school’s second-leading scorer of all-time, will stay in the Bears family for the coming season. Gunderson had already tendered with the Bruins’ NA3HL sibling Rochester Grizzlies before Austin picked him in the sixth round (No. 153 overall) of the NAHL Draft. Gunderson has the ability to score highlight-reel goals and control the puck well in tight spaces, but it’s his intangibles that could win him time with the Bruins this season. He plays on-edge, never one to shy away from a physical challenge and not afraid to battle a bigger player for the puck. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and isn’t afraid to let his opponent know that he’ll be there all game long. He’s a hard player to play against.