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Omaha Lancers’ Cole Bruns has zeroed in on USHL history: 5 shutouts in a row to open season

Cole Bruns is unscored upon in 5 starts this season, a USHL record (Brandon Anderson photography, courtesy Omaha …If Cole Bruns had his way, next year's edition of the United States Hockey League media guide would focus more on his team's feat than on his accomplishment.

True story: the 2012-13 USHL guide has no listing for most consecutive shutouts by a goalie, since no netminder had ever produced more than two successive bagels since USA Hockey classified it as a Tier I league in 2002. Bruns, the 19-year-old Omaha Lancers 'tender, has yet to be scored on while helping Omaha begin the year 5-0. That's 300 minutes played and 117 shots without having the red light flash.

"It's going down in the record book as the 2013-14 Omaha Lancers team," Bruns, who's uncommitted to a NCAA Division I school, said on Wednesday. "That's what it's going down as ... The only thing I'm happy about is that we're 5-0. I can't control the outcome, I can try to control the outcome but I can't worry about it."

Sooner or later, Bruns, from Prairie Grove, Ill., in the Chicago area, is going to give up a goal, perhaps as soon as Thursday in a roadie vs. the Waterloo Black Hawks. That's fine by him. Shutout streaks are made to end, so as he sees it, there's no baseball-style 'no talking to the pitcher during a no-hitter' ritual at play.

"I'm not superstitious at all and I think that's where guys get fumbled up," said Bruns, who had one USHL shutout in 21 games prior to this season. "They start thinking, 'oh I got to do this. I got to do that.' I think that gets in the way."

Yet the string of shutouts might have more an effect on the 18 Lancers who play in front of Bruns.

"We chose to address it as a staff," says Brian Kaufman, the 29-year-old rookie head coach. "Just get it out there and move forward and say 'let's not focus on it.' But I think all the guys, in the back of their minds, don't want to be on the ice when that first one goes in. Cole's really well-liked in the locker room. The guys have a ton of respect for the way he plays and carries himself.

"It's kind of been a crazy streak — a mix of a lot of hard work by our players and Cole and a few lucky bounces, a few posts here and there. You can't go five games without a few.

"He's had to stop a few breakaways, some odd-man rushes, some 2-on-1 rushes with a backdoor save [after a cross-crease feed]," adds Kaufman, a former four-year player at Miami of Ohio. "In Sioux Falls in Game 3, one of their leading scorers walked off the half-wall and put one off the crossbar and into the stands."

'Backcheck their brains out'

Bruns astutely realizes that's as much randomness working for him as skill. He shifts credit to work of his teammates. Forwards Jake Randolph and Tyler Vesel, who are each committed to nearby Nebraska-Omaha, have 12 and 10 points already. Minnesota commit Steven Johnson and St. Cloud State commit Jimmy Schuldt are each plus-6, sharing the team lead among the defence corps.

"My forwards backcheck their brains out, my defence clear guys out and allow me to see pucks. Those little things make the difference. We have a solid set of guys who go balls to the wall every day. I'm not too worried about what they'll do if we let a goal in because we have the lethal weapons up front."

Bruns has taken a long road to this once-a-career roll. He was never anything but a goalie since age six with "my mighty mite team ... I did well and haven't taken the pads off since." At 5-foot-10 and 187 pounds, he doesn't fit the big-goalie prototype that is in vogue, but he likes taking calculated risks when challenged by shooters.

"The best way I can describe [his style] is I'm aggressive, but I know when to be patient," he said. "I'm not the biggest guy so I try to get out and take away that angle."

The five shutouts already matches Omaha's total from last season when Bruns backed up Alex Lyon, who's now a freshman at Yale University. Doing something so eye-catching is getting Bruns on radar of NCAA Division I teams.

"The phone's starting to ring now with, at minimum, people asking 'what's going on?' " Kaufman said.

Bruns has either had one of his parents, Jeff and Kelly, or his grandmother, Shirley Stickel, in attendance for four of the five games on this run. He credits one of his first coaches back in Prairie Grove, Casey Van Damme, a former NAIA All-American at Wisconsin-Superior, with helping him build the resolve required of a goalie.

"He's the one who set me mentally straight," Bruns said. "Every time I would let a goal in he would just point to his head: 'Come on, Cole.' "

The goalie seems bent on stayed dedicated to the process. As it happens, the extra attention came amid Omaha trying to focus on 3-in-3 road trip to Waterloo, Chicago and Indiana.

"Some guys do have superstitions, what they do with me," Bruns said. "I don't think we're worried about it, I'm just worried about winning the hockey games."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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