Brandon Kruse.

From the morning shift at the bakery to the Golden Knights: “Pretty unreal”

Special freshmen step in and dictate scoring on the ice when called upon. Great players take on an added role on their team to be the engine that makes the offense function. 

This is where Bowling Green forward Brandon Kruse finds himself this year, and his debut season in the NCAAs set the table. 

During his freshman campaign, the 19-year-old Saline, Mich., native registered 25 assists in 41 games, good enough for second on the team. The strong season contributed to him being selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. 

Despite his talent and the impressive first year, it wasn’t one he was necessarily expecting.

Kruse woke up on June 23 at 5 a.m. for the morning shift at his at his friend’s bakery. The first round of the draft was the night before, and as he thought, his name wasn’t called. But with the second through seventh rounds upcoming that day, there was a chance he’d get the opportunity to hear his name. So his usual routine changed.
“Normally, I’d go to sleep for a couple hours, but Buffalo Wild Wings was having a 2-for-1 special,” Kruse said. “So we ended up going there and it was on the TV. A lot of my buddies were getting drafted, so I was texting and congratulating them.”

Then, Vegas named its pick, the 135th of the draft.
“We were about to leave and I saw my name on the screen. I was just lost for words.”


Like clockwork, his phone started blowing up. First, his coach and then his parents got on the phone. Once he spoke with the Knights, his summer got a lot busier than just working behind the counter and shooting pucks in his free time.

He left soon after to meet his new team in Las Vegas for the Knights’ development camp.
“It was pretty unreal,” Kruse said. “It was my first time ever going to Las Vegas. Just a totally new atmosphere, playing with the next generation of pros, seeing how they act day in and day out and how they carry themselves. I think I learned a lot from that camp and taken that into this season.”

Once back from camp, the 5-foot-9, 155-lb. sophomore prepared for the new season. Establishing himself as a distributor with Bowling Green in his freshman year separated him as one of the best freshmen in the WCHA. Now, in a quasi-leadership role, Kruse has to be one of the key players to replace last year’s outgoing seniors and help the team to their first NCAA Tournament bid since the 1989-90 season — an achievement many internally and externally expect this year. There are signs that he’s exactly the kind of player to take on that larger role, even at such a young age.

“We had a really good team last year and good teams before I was here,” Kruse said. “It just sucks that we can’t kick that door down and make the tournament. Obviously, this team is really good this year, and it motivates me, and I want to be a part of a winning program and help this team make it to the tournament.” 


There are things that need honing while at Bowling Green. Most importantly, Kruse needs to be a more advantageous shooter. He has great vision and knows how to make quick tape-to-tape passes to set his teammates up for grade-A opportunities, but there is a hesitation in his game where he opts to pass first instead of taking that chance of his own. Last season, he scored just eight goals on 70 shots.

“That was one of the things the (Bowling Green) coaching staff and people around me have preached,” Kruse said. “Last season, I was a good passer, but I need to work on my shot because that’s what you need at the next level. People in Vegas told me the same things. Over the summer I just tried shooting more pucks and being more of a threat to score.” 

Bowling Green head coach Chris Bergeron believes that progress with Kruse’s shooting game will improve, as he stepped into the higher leverage role immediately entering camp this year. The stark difference in how he performed from last year, with better skating technique and a more confident shot, could be another signal that his game is developing on schedule.

“He’s at his best when the puck is on his sticks,” Bergeron said. “That’s what he wants. That’s when he’s able to make the players around him better. We’re on him to continue to shoot pucks and continue to be more of a threat to score. Because the puck is on his stick so much — he will never be a shoot-first type guy — but he’s a guy who we want to make sure goalscoring and shooting the puck is a good part of his game.” 


There’s already noticeable progress on the ice. This year, he’s on the path to easily surpass it, with three goals on 19 shots in his first 11 contests. The more he increases his share of shots, the goals will come. His assists are unsurprisingly on pace to shatter last year’s tally. So far, he’s nearly averaging an assist per game.

“Being as consistent as he’s been is hard,” Bergeron said. “But I do think he’s taken a step that way. Last year, the difference between the good day and the bad day was too big. This year, he seems to be in a different place physically and mentally, and it’s showing in his play.” 

Kruse is still developing at the collegiate level, but looking toward the future, Vegas might have something special, especially if he can further develop that shot. But doubters don’t bother Kruse. After watching the Knights’ impressive run to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season, Kruse sees a personality match between himself and the team that drafted him.

“I couldn’t have been any happier, to be honest,” Kruse said. “They were known as the misfits last year, and overlooked as a team going into the season. For the most part, I’ve been overlooked my whole life. I’m a small player and people overlooked me. When I got picked by them, it was pretty special, knowing that we came from the same place. It is for sure a team I’d want to play for in the future.”

For now, the goal is to kick that door down and turn some heads doing it. Bowling Green annually has its doubters, and Kruse and his teammates are ready to prove them wrong, too. 

This story was provided to EP Rinkside in collaboration with our friends at College Hockey News.

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