Stanislav Dosek and Mason Salquist of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Logan Ritchie and Justin Daly of the Brown Bears work to gain possession of the puck Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Stanislav Dosek and Mason Salquist of the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Logan Ritchie and Justin Daly of the Brown Bears work to gain possession of the puck Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Bears’ Ritchie excels in classroom, faceoff circle

Kenai River Brown Bears forward Logan Ritchie, 19, excels in both the classroom and the faceoff circle, and that’s brought him an opportunity to try and get to the next level with the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League.

Ritchie caught the attention of Bears head coach Josh Petrich for great play with the St. Louis Blues AAA program and lights-out work in the classroom.

“We wanted to go out and get leaders that are excited to be here and want to win,” Petrich said.

Petrich called Ritchie and his parents, Christina and Mike Ritchie of O’Fallon, Missouri, and expressed interest in signing Ritchie to a tender. A tender gives a squad exclusive NAHL rights to a player and removes his name from the draft.

Rather than exciting, Ritchie called the initial call interesting. O’Fallon is just 45 minutes outside of St. Louis and moving to the Kenai Peninsula would be quite a change.

“Josh said a lot of guys end up coming up here from big cities and liking it,” Ritchie said. “I’ve done a lot of traveling with my family and it’s always to places that are away from cities and more outdoorsy. It seemed like me, and it’s been a pretty easy transition moving up here.”

Ritchie said he was working out at the gym this week and drove home to his billet parents, Michell and Terry Johnston of Firehouse BBQ fame. He got a nice surprise when he got out of the car.

“I love it here,” said Ritchie, adding he’s the type of guy who’d rather be in a jacket and sweatpants than trying to deal with extreme heat. “I looked up at the sky and there were stars galore. I’m not used to seeing that.”

Ritchie has one season left of junior eligibility after this season. He graduated from high school with a grade-point average of over 4.0 and also was over 30 on the ACT. Petrich said those type of academics open up all the Division I schools to Ritchie.

“You’ll go to the Showcase and see the hard schools to get into have sheets full of X’s because of the grades,” Petrich said. “That’s what’s exciting about him. He’s done the work to make all the schools available to him.”

Ritchie started excelling in school way before he excelled in hockey. In elementary school, he said his parents would always make him complete homework before playing outside or watching television.

That skill for organizing his time served him well as he started working his way up through the Blues program and spending more and more time practicing.

Although he started skating at 3 and playing with teams when he was 5, Ritchie did not make a AAA team until he was 16. He said coach Michael Berra helped him develop more and more skill.

Then, before last season, his coach and former NHL player Lubos Bartecko convinced Ritchie and his linemates to get into the gym.

Ritchie said he noticed the difference immediately when the season started. He put up 23 goals and 13 assists in 36 games last season with the 18U team after just three goals and four assists in 30 games during the previous season.

What really stood out to Petrich about the 5-foot-11, 190-pound player was faceoffs.

“He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached,” Petrich said, adding that Ritchie is winning almost two-thirds of his faceoffs this season.

Ritchie said he hates losing at anything and that serves him well at faceoffs.

“I just go in there and have a plan in my head not to let the other guy beat me,” Ritchie said.

His first preference is always to win the puck clean, but if he is having trouble with his opponent, he’s always willing to tie up and let his wings come in and try to help.

Ritchie said his goal is to earn a Division I scholarship by improving as a two-way center. He’d like to keep improving on defense and get quicker with his skating. Petrich said Ritchie needs more lower body strength to develop an extra step as a skater. Thus far, Ritchie had three goals and four assists in 16 games.

He’s happy he chose the Kenai Peninsula to do those things.

“I love playing in front of the fans here,” Ritchie said. “At AAA, you’re playing in front of parents. It’s 100 fans compared to over 1,000 here. Playing in front of them is awesome.”

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