AUSTIN — The Austin Bruins open their regular season today at 5:15 p.m. against the Wichita Falls Warriors at the North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine.
The Bruins will play four different opponents over the course of the four-day Showcase, the NAHL’s annual season-opening event that draws scouts from nearly every college in the country, as well as from many professional organizations.
Since we’re only a day into the season, we don’t know what we don’t know about the Bruins just yet. But what we do know is that they will put a massive group of defensemen on the ice every night — Lakeville South grad Jack Malinski, who could be one of the team’s top two-way defensemen right off the bat, is the “small” guy of the group, at 5-feet-10, 170 pounds, along with veteran Travis Shoudy (5-10, 160).
We also know the Bruins have a seasoned goalie in Moorhead native Hudson Hodges and a solid crop of experienced forwards, led by captain and Western Michigan University commit Carson Riddle, who is back for his fourth season with the team.
Bruins fans know a lot about the team’s veterans, so let’s take a look at eight newcomers who could play key roles for the team this season:
1. Xavier Jean-Louis, defenseman
A massive piece of that massive blue-line group, the Miami-born, Canadian-raised Jean-Louis goes 6-feet-4, 190 pounds. While he’s one of the team’s fastest skaters, the Bruins coaching staff also wants him to use his size to his advantage and make opposing forwards pay the price when they get close to the crease. The 20-year-old, left-shot defenseman had nine points in 42 games for Carleton Place (Ontario) of the Central Canada Hockey League last season.
2. Braidan Simmons-Fischer, defenseman
We’re fudging the definition of “newcomer” here because Bruins fans and opponents are quite familiar with Simmons-Fischer, the punishing 6-foot-7, 220-pound Western Michigan commit. We’re including the son of former Detroit Red Wings first-round draft pick and star defenseman Jiri Fischer on this list because he is moving from forward to defense this season. Simmons-Fischer could flourish in that role; he’s unforgiving on the ice, having racked up a team-high 158 penalty minutes last season.
3-4. Isaak and Matys Brassard, forwards
Bruins head coach Steve Howard was ecstatic to land the 18-year-old Brassard twins, who hail from St-Hubert, Quebec. Howard said they have a style that is somewhat reminiscent of Reggie Millette, who played parts of three seasons in Austin before moving on to Division I American International College this season. “They’re a ball of energy, for sure,” Howard said of the Brassards. “They like to hit and play hard. That’s my cup of tea, what I’m always looking for.” They both stand 5-10 and weigh between 165-170.
5. Jack Malinski, defenseman
As previously mentioned, Malinski, a former Lakeville South star could be one of Austin’s top two-way defensemen immediately. He impressed the Bruins coaching staff at the tail end of last season, when he joined the team for five games after his high school season ended. Malinski stood out in the best ways at the Bruins’ tryout camp in July. He was all over the ice in the camp All-Star Game, and created a scoring chance just minutes into the game by using his vision to thread a shot from the point that was nearly re-directed into the goal. The Bruins have good depth defensively, but Malinski could be a fixture in the team’s lineup. “He’s one of the smarter defensemen we’ve seen,” Howard said. “We think he’ll be able to take right off.”
6. Nakodan Greyeyes, forward
Another player who the Bruins found in a Canadian junior league, Greyeyes comes to Austin after playing all or part of the past four seasons with the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The 6-foot, 190-pound Winnipeg native had 24 goals and 74 points in 52 game two years ago, the last time he was able to play a full season. He’s been slowed a bit by a lower body injury this preseason, but the Bruins’ staff expects the 20-year-old forward to be a leader on and off the ice.
7. Liam Whitehouse, defenseman
Austin made an offseason trade to acquire Whitehouse to bolster the defensive corps and the leadership group. The 6-3, 205-pound native of Mount Kisco, N.Y., served as a captain for the NAHL’s Johnstown (Pa.) Tomahawks last season. Whitehouse has recorded 11 assists and 165 penalty minutes in 92 career NAHL games. When his birthday arrives on Oct. 10, he’ll join Jean-Louis and Michigan Tech commit Frank Dovorany as 20-year-olds on the Bruins’ blue line.
8. Austin Salani, forward
A North American Hockey League rookie, Salani is another young player who stood out at the Bruins’ tryout camp in July. The 6-1, 195-pounder was an All-State selection last season in Michigan after putting up 21 goals and 47 points in just 15 games at Hancock Central High School (Hancock is in the northern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, just minutes from Houghton). Salani played four seasons for Hancock Central, scoring 80 goals and adding 100 assists in 91 career games played.