This season, the University of Wisconsin hockey team re-established itself as one of the elite programs in the nation after two years of futility. At the center of this revival was junior goaltender Bernd Bruckler.
Selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, the Graz, Austria native has shown consistent signs of improvement in each of his three collegiate seasons.
With a stellar 2003-04 campaign, he cemented himself as one of the elite netminders in the NCAA. The 22-year-old netminder finished the season with a 19-10-8 record, four shutouts, a 2.09 goals against average and .924 save percentage.
For his efforts, Bruckler also captured numerous awards and honors this season, including:
▪ WCHA Defensive Player of the Week (four times)
▪ WCHA First All-Star Team selection
▪ NCAA Tournament East Regional Most Outstanding Player
▪ NCAA Tournament East Regional All-Star Team selection
▪ First Team All-American selection (West Region)
Ultimately, the rejuvenated Badgers fell short in their quest for a national title. Despite a sensational 26-save effort by Bruckler, the team lost to Maine in the NCAA East Regional finals, 2-1 in overtime.
The young goaltender’s season is not yet over, however, as he will soon be traveling to the Czech Republic to compete in the World Championships (April 24 – May 9) as a member of Team Austria.
Hockey’s Future met up with Bruckler this week, as he was making preparations for the big tournament.
HF: First off, congratulations on what was a tremendous season for yourself and the Wisconsin hockey program.
BB: Thank you. It was a very exciting season for our young hockey team and I had a lot of fun and I am fortunate enough to play behind a great group of guys.
HF: Let’s start with the team’s overtime loss to Maine in the NCAA East Regional finals. Describe the lockerroom scene after the game. What was the overall mood of the team?
BB: Obviously it was a very heartbreaking loss and the fact that we were so close made it even harder. Our seniors had just finished the last game of their careers, so it was especially emotional for them. It was very tough to come so close to one of our major goals, the Frozen Four, and an eventual national championship.
HF: How would you define this season as a whole for the Badgers? Was it an outright success, or is there a prevailing sense of disappointment considering how close the team came to making it to the Frozen Four?
BB: I think the season definitely was a success for us and we surprised a lot of people with our play and where we ended up. We were picked to finish eighth in our league and only after our 15-game unbeaten streak people started to take us more serious. We took care of our opportunities all season long and we were able to beat some very good hockey teams. After all, I still have a sense of disappointment because we were not able to win a championship in our league and on the national level.
HF: No question you developed into one of the elite netminders in the NCAA this season. Your game has shown steady improvement in each of your three collegiate seasons. What do you point to as the primary factor in the evolution of your game?
BB: I am a lot more experienced now than three years ago after first arriving in the U.S. It has helped me to play a lot of games in one of the best leagues in the country and our defense certainly helped out a lot this past season as well.
HF: How has the style you play changed since you arrived at Wisconsin as a freshman? What role has goaltending coach Bill Howard played in helping you refine your game?
BB: I don’t think my style has changed all that much, but Coach Howard has played a huge role in refining my technique and working with me a tremendous amount of time since my freshman year. I am technically way more sound now than I was in the past and we really worked on cutting my movement down to a minimum to be more effective.
HF: What aspects of your game still need the most work? What would you like to improve upon most?
BB: I love handling the puck but I still think I can get a lot better at it. I also think I can work on my patience a lot more and I want to master my rebound control.
HF: What kind of contact have the Flyers kept with you over the past year and throughout your time in college? Does the organization keep you informed about where it feels you are in your development?
BB: I have been in contact with the Flyers throughout my college career, but they are letting me develop and letting me focus on my play with the Badgers. They have informed me time after time about the way they feel about my development and I am very glad to be a part of such a great organization.
HF: And how do they feel about your development?
BB: They’ve told me that they are happy about my situation at Wisconsin and the fact that I have another year remaining at a premier college program, and a chance to learn even more from working with Coach Howard.
HF: How closely do you follow the Flyers? Where do you feel you are in the team’s future goaltending plans?
BB: I love watching them on TV, but I am not sure how I fit in their future goaltending plans. I’m sure I will find out some more information this summer.
HF: Wisconsin senior John Eichelberger is a fellow Flyers draftee. Have the two of you had conversations about your potential futures with the organization? Also, what kind of professional do you feel John will make?
BB: Every once in a while we talk about the Flyers and how much fun it would be to play together at some point in the future. I think John will do good as a professional because he has great vision and understands the game really well.
HF: Is there any possibility that you will sign with the Flyers this offseason and turn pro? Or, will we see you back with Wisconsin as a senior next season?
BB: I have only been in very little contact with the Flyers since my season ended and I don’t think I can answer this question at this point. Either way, I am happy that I have a place to play with the Badgers and I would love to make another run at a national title.
HF: The previous question notwithstanding, what are your plans and/or specific goals for the offseason?
BB: I am going to play for my country in the upcoming World Championships in Czech Republic and I am very excited about that. In the summer I will train with my team in Wisconsin and run a few hockey schools for Behind The Mask Inc. (www.behindthemask.net), where I am the head instructor.
HF: Talk about the World Championships a bit. What does it mean to you to represent Austria in a high-profile international event such as this?
BB: It is a huge honor for me to be invited to compete for my native country in the
World Championships against high caliber international competition, and I really look forward to the new challenge and the new experience.
HF: How is the Austrian hockey program coming along? What kind of growth have you seen in it over the past few years?
BB: Austrian hockey is certainly growing and moving in the right direction, and I think the fact that we have had three guys make their NHL debuts over the last couple of years (Christoph Brandner, Reinhard Divis, Thomas Pock) is a recent reward in itself.
HF: Backtracking a bit, tell me about Behind the Mask. How did you get involved there?
BB: I met current BTM president, my good friend Brad Koenen, a few years ago and I liked the vision and direction the school is headed. I really want to give my knowledge to young goaltenders and give back as much as I can.
HF: You mentioned that you are the head instructor?
BB: Yes, I run the on-ice drills and I attend all sessions in full gear to be able to best demonstrate the techniques and fundamentals. In addition, I also run most of the classroom sessions with some of our other coaches.
HF: What’s your favorite thing about teaching and working with young, aspiring goaltenders?
BB: Because I grew up playing hockey in Austria, I never even had a chance to attend a goaltender school and further develop my skills. I love seeing the improvement these dedicated young goaltenders make, even in a short period of time. I have a lot of fun working in a great atmosphere with the other coaches at BTM as well.