MISSOULA — The Missoula Junior Bruins hockey team will take a break from its usual competition to test itself against non-division opponents for the only time before the playoffs.
The Bruins will head to the NA3HL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, from Sunday through Tuesday at the midpoint of their season. They’ll play three games at the 36-team showcase, taking on the Cape Cod Islanders, Alexandria Blizzard and Long Beach Sharks.
“It’s our biggest event of the year,” said Cliff Cook, the Jr. Bruins’ first-year head coach and general manager. “It’s a time for our guys to put on a show in front of live scouts and recruiters for higher-level junior teams and colleges. As a team, we want to get the three wins and six points to help us out in the standings.”
Through 23 of 47 games, the Jr. Bruins are 12-11 (24 points) and sit in fifth place out of seven teams in the Frontier Division. Missoula is one point behind the Gillette Wild (25 points) for the fourth and final playoff spot out of the division.
Three of the four teams in front of Missoula have played either 24 or 25 games, meaning the Jr. Bruins have extra remaining opportunities to gain points. Missoula has 24 games left, including 21 division games.
“We think we’re in shape to make a run,” Cook said. “We were on a six-game win streak (from Nov. 3-24). Our only team goal is to make the playoffs, which is another avenue for these guys to get noticed. We’re confident making the playoffs isn’t an issue.”
When Cook took over, he wanted the Jr. Bruins to play with an uptempo pace while keeping a stout defense, the latter of which had been his primary philosophy. They rank fourth in the division in goals scored (103) and goals allowed (95).
Missoula is led offensively by the Russian duo of Misha Akatnov and Vadim Zubkov. Akatnov has tallied 56 points (33 goals, 23 assists) and broke the NA3HL all-time scoring record earlier this season when he scored his 106th goal. Zubkov has added 52 points (25 goals, 27 assists).
The Jr. Bruins have gotten a boost from Trevor Prince, who has tallied 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) since joining the team six games ago. Connor Frye headlines the defenders with 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) in 23 games.
“I think we’re right on the track with what we want to do,” Cook said. “In the last few years, my philosophy and hockey in general has become uptempo, offensive minded and aggressive. It’s been a learning curve because they’ve been brought up like I was to move the puck and pass well. We try not to put limitations on it. We’ve gotten burned, but we’re allowing these guys the freedom to be creative and make a mistake without the coaches getting on them.”
Five Mavs to play in college
Five seniors from the Missoula Mavericks baseball team plan to continue their playing days at the collegiate level.
Sam Bucy, from Sentinel, signed to play at the University of Sioux Falls, a Division II school in South Dakota.
Dane Fraser and Dylan Chalmers, both from Sentinel, will play at Yakima Valley Community College in Washington.
Tradd Richardson, from Frenchtown, will head to Lassen Community College in California.
Thomas Martin is staying in the state, having committed to Miles City Community College.