Blaine's Carsen Richels (17) scored two goals in the win for the Bengals, upping his season total to 31.
As Brainerd head coach Dave Aus enters the Fogerty Ice Arena, the memories understandably come flooding back, and not for the first time.
“I (came) through the rink two weeks ago with my youngest,” Aus said on Friday night, adding that the visit was for a squirt tournament. “That was my first time seeing their little Hall of Fame. (It was) really kind of emotional.” It’s cool because in a lot of the pictures I’ve got three of my kids, and they’re just little tykes.”
For 14 years, Fogerty was Aus’ home rink as head coach of the Blaine Bengals, where he guided the program to 216 wins and six consecutive state tournament appearances in the mid-2000s.
Despite the extended run of success, Aus was not welcomed back warmly on Friday.
Blaine, ranked No. 2 in the latest Youth Hockey Hub Class 2A Staff Rankings, scored five unanswered goals over the course of the second and third periods to extinguish a spirited start for the No. 20-2A Warriors (14-8).
The loss, and the Bengal scoring outburst, did not surprise Aus.
“I knew that’d be coming because every guy on the bench was there when I was,” Aus said. “This is the best team we’ve played. We’ve seen (Eden Prairie), Duluth East, Moorhead. This team is heads and tails better than all of those teams.”
The Warriors rocketed to a 2-0 lead after the first period, with goals coming from Will Lundstrom and Josh McLain. The Bengals answered with three goals in the second period and two more scores in the this for the 5-2 win. Carson Richels scored twice for the Bengals (15-2-2), with single goals coming from Bryce Brodzinski, Will Hillman, and Zach Buzick.
In addition to facing a more talented team, Aus said that the Warriors’ inability to make the Bengals pay for four of five penalties swung the game.
“We get on the power play, and we just don’t do what we need to do to make things interesting,” Aus said. “When you don’t convert on your power plays it’s gonna be tough to win.”
Joe Daninger made 17 saves on 19 shots to earn the win between the pipes for Blaine.
The happier memories, like the ones of his children and shepherding his Bengals all those years will certainly overshadow Friday’s loss. Aus spoke fondly of Jonny Brodzinski, now of the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings, but added that not only the star players stood out is his mind.
“You talk about (Nick Bjugstad) and Jonny, and Riley Tufte and the top-end guys, but really there are a lot of guys who maybe didn’t go to be NHL players,” Aus said. “Travis Kovalchuk, the Danny Harper’s, the Tony Larson’s, the guys who really had a lot to do with our success here.”
With all of the happy recollections, of wins and unsung heroes and state tournament trips, a single grievous remembrance stands out for Aus.
“The other memory, honestly, and this is a hard one, is Andrew Carroll,” Aus said, referring to the former Minnesota-Duluth standout and brother of Blaine head coach Chris Carroll who died in January of 2018 at 32.
“Andrew spent a lot of time here working for me in the summer, and led a lot of these guys and taught them how to work hard,” Aus said. “Andrew’s memory will stay with me the rest of my life and with our family. My wife adored him, and my kids adored him, so walking in here, I think of Andrew,” Aus continued.
“He should be here tonight giving me a hard time about the way (Blaine) beat us. He was a one-of-a-kind, and a guy who had a lot of best friends.”
Dave Aus (middle, black jacket), and Blaine head coach Chris Carroll (right) meet at center ice after the postgame handshake on Friday night.