Three members of the 2014-15 Kenai River Brown Bears recently committed to Division III hockey programs.
Captain Tyler Andrews has committed to St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, while defenseman Quinton Wunder will go to Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois, and goalie Evan Hauser will play at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls.
Andrews, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound defenseman, played for the Brown Bears for two years after captaining Dimond to the state hockey crown in 2013. In the 2013-14 season, he appeared in 51 games, with six goals and 10 assists and a minus-5. Last season, Andrews saw action in 49 games, with five goals and 24 assists and a minus-17.
St. Norbert is one of the top Division III programs in the nation, winning Division III championships in 2008, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Green Knights have only missed the Division III Frozen Four four times since 2003. St. Norbert has competed in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association since the 1994-95 season, winning 14 NCHA titles and 12 NCHA Playoffs in that time.
Andrews also said the school is noted for academics, with a four-year graduation guarantee and an average grade-point average of 3.5.
Former Brown Bears player Chris Rial was a senior on last year’s team and has had positive things to say about the athletic and academic experience.
Andrews said he leaned on Sam Tikka, who is originally from Soldotna and coached Andrews in Anchorage, for information about St. Norbert. Tikka played for the Green Knights.
“Although a Division I fit for Tyler never materialized, he’s going to be a top-end Division III player,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “I’m excited for him to apply all the work he has put in the last two years.”
Last season, Andrews missed games due to a hernia surgery and suspension for various hard hits as the team struggled to a 16-42-2 mark.
“He was a great leader for our club in a trying season,” Beauparlant said. “There was a lot of adversity but he stuck with it.
“He exemplifies what it means to be a Brown Bear.”
Beauparlant has long said Andrews has the potential to be a pro hockey player, and that opinion has not changed.
“I think he already plays pro-style hockey,” Beauparlant said. “He manages his body well, and manages the minutes he plays well.
“He moves the puck cleanly and does the little things, like blocking shots. He plays in every situation. There’s no doubt that after four years at St. Norbert he will be playing on a pro roster somewhere.”
Andrews knows St. Norbert has the potential to get him there.
“They send a number of guys to the pro level,” he said. “They have connections that will help. Four years of a great hockey environment will help me progress as a player.”
Despite the rough season last winter, Andrews said he can only hope the Green Knights experience turns out like the Brown Bears experience.
“It was definitely the best two years of my life so far,” Andrews said. “It’s a great organization.
“I’ll take what I learned last year, as the leader of a losing team, and use it for the rest of my hockey life.”
Wunder, a 6-2, 195-pounder out of Thousand Oaks, California, came to the Bears early in the season and played 41 games, finishing with two goals, two assists and a minus-18. He had another year of junior eligibility but elected to attend college early.
The Foresters play in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, where they finished third with a 12-5-1 record last season under first-year coach Patrick Kelliher.
“He had a couple of key goals for us at different times,” Beauparlant said of Wunder. “He was primarily a shot blocker, penalty killer and tough guy that wasn’t easily pushed around. He’ll be a steady presence on their defensive corps.”
Hauser, a 6-foot-2, 180-pounder from St. Paul, Minnesota, joined the team for the second half of the season when the goaltending needed to be shored up. He finished 2-15-1 with a 3.84 goals-against average and .888 save percentage, but Beauparlant said those numbers were not indicative of his value.
“Evan came into a tough situation and handled it like a pro,” Beauparlant said. “His record didn’t show the character and work ethic he put behind his craft.
“He’s a very mature young man, and that will lead to success in hockey and life. I thought that most nights, he gave us a chance to win with his goaltending.”
Hauser left the Tier III Great Falls (Montana) Americans to come to the Tier II Brown Bears. In Great Falls, Hauser was 14-0-0 with a 1.42 goals-against average and .957 save percentage.
“He never looked back and was thankful for the opportunity we gave him,” Beauparlant said. “He never took it for granted.”
UW – River Falls is led by coach Steve Freeman, who has led the team to Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles in 10 of the past 14 seasons. When Freeman was the No. 1 assistant, the Falcons played in four Frozen Fours, winning one title. They have one other Frozen Four appearance since he took the reigns in 1997.
“They were looking for a potential future go-to guy,” Beauparlant said. “It was a great fit for Evan. It’s right close to home.
“The big thing that attracted him there was the opportunity to play, if not freshman year than soon after.”
Bears notes: The 7th Annual Stanley Ford Brown Bear Classic will be July 11 at the Kenai Golf Course. It will be a part of alumni weekend for the Bears, which will be July 10 and 11. For details, check out the Brown Bears’ Facebook page. …
The North American Hockey League draft will be June 9. The Bears have the second overall pick in the draft.