The Brown and Gold Game is an annual chance for fans to get a sneak peek at the current season’s edition of the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Friday, that peek was more up close and personal than ever at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The evening started with a chance to meet the players, and instead of three periods, there were two periods with 25 minutes of running clock. The “third period” was fans skating around the rink with players.
Head coach Geoff Beauparlant said the evening was just the first step in his players being more visible in the community this season.
In his first season last year, Beauparlant said the players did a lot of community service, but a lot of it was behind the scenes.
He said the team will be happy to continue to labor behind the scenes, but he wants to add more things that get the players out and meeting fans, like Friday’s skate and a planned elementary reading program.
“It was great to see the smiles on the younger players’ faces when they met the players,” Beauparlant said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Defenseman Tyler Andrews, who has been named the team captain, said Beauparlant’s year of experience should be evident on the ice as well.
“Coach Beau was learning everything last year as he went through it for the first time,” Andrews said. “Now he’s been through everything once, so that will help a lot.”
Andrews said Beauparlant and the scouting staff have assembled a team with more depth and talent than last year, but the coach said that means little at this point.
“What potential there is doesn’t matter until we come together as a group and play that way,” Beauparlant said.
The coaching staff gave player of the game in Brown’s 4-0 victory over Gold to Brown goalie Zach Quinn, one of five returners for the Bears.
Quinn said after the game that he has been working on getting the speed back in his glove hand.
Assistant coach Scott Johnson said the positioning of Quinn’s glove hand was much better Friday, allowing him to make one particular save with his shoulder than he probably doesn’t make at the start of camp.
“I think he was sharp and focused and looked in midseason form,” Beauparlant said. “That’s what you would expect from a returning guy.”
The top offensive performers were Manfred Ehlers, an import from Sweden, and returner Matt Rudin.
Ehlers piled up a goal and three assists, while Rudin had two goals and an assist.
“We talked about Matt and Maurin (Bouvet) spearheading the offense,” Beauparlant said. “When you add a guy like Manfred that’s big and strong, that’s going to create more time and space for those two with the puck.”
Ehlers used to play in Sweden with Sebastian Fuchs, who played for the Bears last season before moving up to the United States Hockey League this year, and he’s only heard good things about the organization from Fuchs.
“He told me it’s a small town, but that’s good because I have a lot of school to do,” Ehlers said.
Rudin said he has set the goal of besting the 66 points Alec Butcher put up for the Bears in winning league MVP honors last season and committing to Division I Sacred Heart.
He said his chemistry with Ehlers is the type of thing that can get him there.
“It wasn’t there from the start, but we’ve spent a lot of time passing the puck together and now we know where the other one is going to be on the ice,” he said.
Speaking of Butcher, Beauparlant has been quick to point out that Butcher’s brother Evan, who joins the team this year, is a different player than Alec and fans should not expect one brother to fill the other brother’s shoes.
But Evan did nothing to dampen expectations when he made a nice move to beat a defender and score the first goal of the night.
“He’s really improving,” Beauparlant said. “He was the practice player (Thursday) and he would have been a candidate for player of the game tonight if not for what Quinn did.”
Beauparlant also liked the improved offensive capabilities that returning defenseman Gustav Berglund showed in tallying a pair of assists.
“I think he can get up and be more offensive while still playing solid defense,” the coach said.
Beauparlant said the other highlight was that the young players answered the call for more intensity and physical play between periods.
“That’s going to be important next Friday,” Beauparlant said.
The Bears open their season Friday and Saturday with 7:30 p.m. games at the sports center against the rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs, the defending Robertson Cup champions.