It's not always easy being the second banana, but Cole Bruns said he's taking advantage of the chance to learn as much as he can during his apprenticeship this season as the backup to Omaha Lancer goalie Alex Lyon.
“I've never been the backup goalie before, and it was hard at the beginning of the year,” Bruns said. “I've known Alex for a long time, and I've gained a lot of insight on what needs to be done to win from him.”
Bruns said he and Lyon were teammates in Cedar Rapids three years ago, and that friendship has helped make the transition to backup easier.
Lyon will begin his collegiate career next season at Princeton and Bruns said he plans to return to Omaha next season, when he'll have his chance to impress college coaches who are waiting to see him be, as Bruns says, “that guy.”
“Competing every day in practice with someone as good as Alex really translates into how we both play in games,” Bruns said. “What you do every day becomes easy on the ice.”
Like any other competitive person, Bruns would prefer to be in as many games as possible. But he understands his role, though at times he admits it isn't easy.
“I never really like sitting on the bench and watching games,” Bruns said. “I'm willing to do whatever the coaching staff feels we need to do to win. I'm willing to pay my dues now and watch to be that guy next year.”
When he does get a turn on the ice, Bruns does everything he can to take advantage of the opportunity. The 19-year-old from Prairie Grove, Ill., has a 7-6 record with a .910 save percentage.
Among goalies who have played in at least 12 games, Bruns is ranked No. 8 in the USHL in goals against average at 2.70.
“There's always that pressure on you to perform when you don't get many opportunities to play,” Bruns said. “I just have to focus on trying to win the game.”
Lancer coach Mike Aikens understands that competitive fire in Bruns and appreciates both the way he's accepted the back-up role and how hard he works in practice and games when he gets to play.
“He's been awesome,” Aikens said. “He knows his role on the team and he's exactly the type of character kid you want in that position. He works extremely hard every day.
“He's probably the player that's in the best shape on our team because of the way he works in the weight room and other things we do off the ice.”
Twice this season Bruns has played in three consecutive games when Lyon was injured. Bruns said he enjoyed helping his teammates in that role.
“I like being that guy everybody depends on,” Bruns said. “Everybody wants to be that guy, the guy who wins that game.”
Aikens said the way Bruns plays every chance he gets hasn't gone unnoticed.
“When he has played he's been great,” Aikens said. “When he's not in you don't see him with his head down or see him pout.”
When he's in goal, Bruns said there are three primary things to help him stay focused.
“I'm talking to my teammates, playing the puck as best I can to help out my defensemen, and just focusing on the puck so I don't get scored on,” Bruns said. “I'm making sure I follow up the plays.
“If anything goes wrong, when it gets to our blue line and there's a breakaway, I'm ready. I just want to show I can be the guy who can win games. I love to win.”
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