The North American Hockey League released the schedule for its 47th season Tuesday and it contains great news for fans of the Kenai River Brown Bears.
Twenty-eight games are scheduled for the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for the 2021-22 season, which will be the 15th for the Brown Bears.
Last season, Kenai River got to play just eight games at the sports complex due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Bears spent all but the end of the regular season temporarily based in Minnesota, then moved back to Minnesota for the playoffs.
Kenai River also will be back to a 60-game regular season. Last season, each team in the Midwest Division played just 48 games.
The 18th annual NAHL Showcase Tournament also will return Sept. 15 to 18 at the Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. Each of the 29 NAHL teams will play four games that count in the regular season standings at the showcase. The schedule for the Showcase has not yet been announced.
The event lets NCAA and NHL scouts get an early season look at NAHL players.
With the release of the schedule, the league also gave a look at how successful events like the Showcase have been at moving players on to the next level.
To date this season, the league said 350 NAHL players have college commitments, well on pace to break the season record of 362 NCAA commitments from 2019-20. The Brown Bears have seven college commitments listed on the NAHL website.
The league also has 282 NCAA Division I commitments this season, a new record. Six of the seven commitments for the Bears are at the Division I level.
Nine players that saw time in the NAHL this year also made the NHL Central Scouting Final Rankings for the 2021 NHL Draft, including Brown Bears goalie Luke Pavicich, who also has committed to play Division I hockey for defending NCAA champion University of Massachusetts.
“It’s a landmark day for the NAHL because not only do we get to announce a regular season schedule on time, but we are also looking forward to the upcoming season being our busiest and most exciting to date with a record number of 29 teams,” said Mark Frankenfeld, NAHL commissioner and president, in a released statement. “This year, our owners worked extra hard with a shortened timeline to make the schedule happen and a big part of our continued success is the direct result of their leadership and commitment.
“The NAHL continues to set the standard when it comes to the development of our players, with another incredible season of NCAA advancement in 2020-21.”
While many things in the league are getting back to normal, a new wrinkle for the Bears is that there will be three Alaska teams in the NAHL for the first time since the 2011-12 season, when the Alaska Avalanche played their last season in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys.
The Anchorage Wolverines, who will play in the Sullivan Arena, join the league for 2021-22.
The Wolverines, Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs are in the Midwest Division along with the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets, Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel, Minnesota Magicians, Minnesota Wilderness and Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues.
The Bears will be able shave some costs by playing the Wolverines 12 times and the Ice Dogs 12 times, meaning 24 of the 60 regular season games will be against in-state rivals.
After that, the Bears play the Magicians eight times, the Steel seven times, the Jets and Jr. Blues six times apiece and the Wilderness five times. In all, the Bears play 56 games in the division. The other four will come in the Showcase.
The Bears open their season Sept. 10 with a 4 p.m. AKDT game at the Steel. Kenai River’s home opener is Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. against the Steel.
The Bears see Fairbanks for the first time on the road on Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Fairbanks makes its first appearance at the sports complex on Oct. 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Kenai River plays the Wolverines for the first time Nov. 5 at the sports complex at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12, the Bears will face the Wolverines for the first time at the Sullivan Arena at 7:07 p.m.
The addition of the Wolverines also means short stints in the Lower 48 and long stretches in Alaska for the Bears.
The Bears start the season Sept. 10 in the Lower 48 and remain there through Sept. 25, but then don’t play in the Lower 48 again until Dec. 16. By Jan. 14, the Bears are already playing in Alaska again. Kenai River then has just four games in the Lower 48 from Feb. 4 to Feb. 12 for the rest of the regular season, which concludes April 9.
The Wolverines team also gives fans six more chances to see the Bears if they are up for the drive to Anchorage.
The full schedule is available at nahl.com.