Austin Bruins captain Jack Malinski headed east to play at Division I Vermont – The Rink Live

Austin Bruins captain Jack Malinski headed east to play at Division I Vermont – The Rink Live

AUSTIN, Minn. – Jack Malinski flew from Minneapolis to Burlington, Vt., on Jan. 2 to take an official visit with the University of Vermont men’s hockey team.

As Malinski’s flight touched down at the airport in Burlington, the Austin Bruins’ second-year defenseman and team captain looked out his window, a thought swirling around in his mind.

“As we were flying in, I could see the mountains to the right and to the left, and Lake Champlain right there,” Malinski said. “I’m a big outdoorsman. I love mountains, lakes, rivers. I love fly fishing. It’s a great setup. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Malinski’s visit only got better from there.

After touring the campus, which is home to nearly 12,000 students, and without the hockey facilities — the Catamounts’ home ice, Gutterson Arena, bears a resemblance to Riverside Arena in Austin, only with dozens of rows of bleachers on each end — Malinski was lure, just like the fish he hopes to harvest from Lake Champlain, which borders Burlington to the west.

Vermont’s coaching staff was hooked, too.

They’ve been trying to get Malinski a Catamount for more than two years, since he led Lakeville South to the Class AA high school state championship game in 2021. The Cougars suffered a tough double-OT loss to Eden Prairie in that game , but the silver lining for Malinski was the exposure he got to major college and pro scouts.

Jack Malinski

“I’m very happy for him and his family,” said Austin coach Steve Howard, whose staff had recruited Malinski and signed him to an NAHL tender during that 2020-21 season. “Jack is a kid who wasn’t in the (Upper Midwest) High School Elite League. He wasn’t hailed as a big guy to watch coming out of high school hockey. … It was good that he and his team made it to the state finals, then he didn’t sit out. He was in our lineup the other weekend.”

Malinski hasn’t left that lineup since. Vermont hasn’t left it alone either.

After a five-goal, 21-point season last year as an NAHL rookie, there was a time when Malinski and Howard thought the Catamounts coaching staff would ask Malinski to commit and come to campus in the fall of 2022 But Vermont was able to bring in a pair of European linebackers as well as graduate transfer Eric Gotz (a Hermantown native) from Michigan Tech.

“It allowed me to have this extra year here in Austin,” Malinski said. “(Commitment) is a huge weight on my shoulders. It lets me play the game, just go out and play hockey. I don’t have to worry about getting scratched from a scout’s list during a game.

“It helps my confidence. (The Vermont coaches) can help me along the way, as well as coach Howard; they can provide that extra support the rest of the way this season.”

Fittingly, the Bruins have often gone as Malinski, their leader, has gone this year. It’s a season that has been extremely positive up to this point. After defeating rival Aberdeen last weekend in Austin, the Bruins (21-5-7 overall) extended their NAHL Central Division lead to 11 points over second-place Minot and 12 over third-place Aberdeen .

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Malinski, who turned 20 last June, has rarely left the ice, playing five-on-five and on both special teams. The Catamounts coaches’ eyes lit up when they saw Malinski’s numbers: He’s averaging nearly 28 minutes of ice time per game.

He also possesses many of the same traits that his older brother Sam, a senior captain at Cornell University this season, possesses. Sam Malinski played against Howard and the Bruins in the 2018-19 season, when Sam was the NAHL Central Division Defenseman of the Year, playing for the Bismarck Bobcats.

“Jack is a ball-moving defenseman,” Howard said of Malinski, who has three goals and 23 assists in 26 games this season. “He takes us out of the zone. He really takes advantage of his vision and his hockey sense, those are his best assets. He can see the ice so well and make passes to get us out of our zone quickly. The same applies in the offensive zone. Sam was really good at shooting in traffic and at the net, and Jack has the same ability.”

Sam is one of a handful of people Jack Malinski relied on during his recruiting and decision-making process. Howard, as well as Bruins assistant coaches Hampus Sjodahl and Justin Fisher, and former Bruin Jens Richards — now a freshman at Vermont — also helped and talked Malinski through the process.

In the end, though, the decision was Jack’s, and his three boxes were checked: A new program, where he’ll have a chance to earn immediate ice time (Vermont loses three right defensemen after this season); a university with an excellent business program (the Grossman School of Business is ranked among the top 25 in the country); and a nearby town of great fly fishing.

Malinski will also play for a staff that has experience and success at the Division I and higher levels. Catamounts head coach Todd Woodcroft coached with five NHL teams before becoming Vermont’s coach three years ago. Assistant coach Stephen Wiedler was the associate head coach at American International College for the perennial Atlantic Hockey title before joining the Catamounts staff in the 2020-21 season.

Vermont, which plays in the increasingly powerful Hockey East, is 7-12-2 this season.

“Jack had two (college) visits lined up,” Howard said. “He came out (to Vermont) and called me from there. He said ‘I will not make the next visit.’ He was impressed with Burlington and the coaching staff there.

“When you have a coach with you and love you for two years, that speaks volumes. Jack wanted to go where he felt wanted.”

A look at current Austin Bruins players committed to Division I college programs

PLAYERPOS.SCHOOLJack MalinskiDU. of VermontGavin MorrisseyFMSU, MankatoEthan RobertsonGCanisius College

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