By Ed Kobak
For the Redoubt Reporter
The Kenai River Brown Bears Junior A hockey team returns to the Soldotna Sports Center on Kalifornsky Beach Road for their home opener this weekend against the Bismarck, N.D., Bobcats.
Game time Friday and Saturday nights is 7:30 p.m.
The Brown Bears, members of the North American Hockey League, began their season on the road Sept. 11 against in-state rival Alaska Avalanche in Wasilla. From there it was on to the NAHL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, Minn., followed by road games in Manson, Iowa, against the North Iowa Outlaws, and last weekend’s three-game road set against the Wenatchee, Wash., Wild.
The Brown Bears return home after their long road swing with a 2-8-1 record to begin a 12-consecutive game home stand. The Bears play their next 18 of 21 games in Soldotna.
The Brown Bears, as members of the 19-team NAHL, play Junior A hockey, the highest level of amateur hockey outside of the college ranks in the U.S. The NAHL is an amateur developmental league that helps players transition from midget and high-school hockey to college hockey.
The primary goal of the league is to enhance the development of its players. The NAHL promotes its players to all major college programs, and to the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. The NAHL also has a Top Prospects Tournament from Jan. 18 to 20 to spotlight top NAHL talent for college coaches and NHL scouts.
The NAHL’s teams span the Midwest with teams as far east as Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, as far south as Texas, and the Northern outpost of Bismarck, N.D., along with far Northwest division rivals the Wenatchee Wild, in Washington, Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The St. Louis Bandits are the three-time defending NAHL champions, with rival Wenatchee making it to the final championship game this past spring in their first season.
The NAHL was founded in 1975 as the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League and renamed the NAHL in 1985. The NAHL is affiliated with USA Hockey, the national governing body for hockey.
The Brown Bears play a 58-game regular season schedule with 27 home games slated for the Soldotna Sport Center, with the ultimate goal of playing in the Robertson Cup NAHL championship finals in Wenatchee, Wash., May 3 to 8 (www.robertsoncup.ocm). The Brown Bears are hoping to improve on last season’s 14-36-8 regular-season record and first-round playoff series loss.
The owners and founders of the Brown Bears are Sylvia Lance and Barry Schoenly, who operate the Bears as a nonprofit organization. General manager is Nate Kiel.
The Bears are led by Head Coach Marty Quarters, who has 17 years of coaching experience, last with the Yellowstone Quake Junior A team, and previously with Merrimack College. Assistant Coach Oliver David begins his first season with the Brown Bears and is returning to the peninsula, where he started his junior career playing with the Peninsula Chinooks in 1998-99.
The Brown Bears return seven players from last year’s squad. Local players to watch are Soldotna’s own Brad Duwe (No. 16), Branden Fisher (No. 7), Brad Fusaro (No. 8), Clayton Glick (No. 20) and Kenai locals Kegan Kiel (No. 26) and captain Jed McGlasson (No. 21).
General admission, single-game tickets are $10 for adults and $6 for children, available at the Sports Center. General admission season tickets are available for adults for $179, and kids and seniors for $99 by calling 283-2799. Go to http://www.NAHL.com and click on the link for the Brown Bears homepage. All NAHL games may be viewed live on the B2 Network at http://www.b2livetv.com. Join the Brown Bears Fan Club at http://www.bearsdenfanclub.com.
Ed Kobak, a resident of Cohoe, is an author, publisher and distributor of sports reference books, http://www.sportsbookempire.com. He also is a freelance sports and adventure travel writer, Asia coffee and pepper importer and self-professed globetrotter. He is reachable at email@example.com.