Kenai River Brown Bears captain Adam Kresl is from a small town of 1,300 with long and cold winters, short and mild summers, and hockey and “snowmobiling” serving as the main things to do in the winter.
Sound a little bit familiar?
“Alaska was like home,” Kresl said of his first impression upon arriving here in March 2014. “You get that same small-town feel. I was flying into a small-town airport, just like the one at home.”
Home for Kresl, son of Steve and Amy Kresl, is Eagle River, Wisconsin, located in the extreme northern part of the state. Average temperatures there in January range from 20 to 0 degrees, while averages in July range from 78 to 55 degrees.
The World Snowmobile Headquarters and International Snowmobile Hall of Fame are in Eagle River, as is the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame and the annual Labatt Blue US pond hockey national championships. (No. Kresl, 20, has never played in the championships, because the minimum age is 21. But he did get out of class to ref some games while in high school.)
“It has really good youth hockey with a pretty solid tradition,” Kresl, billet son of Chris and Melissa Kline, said of Eagle River. “It’s the only thing going on in the winter. The whole town supports it.”
Former NHL player Craig Ludwig is from the Eagle River area and, like Kresl, claims Northland Pines High School as his alma mater. Ludwig won a pair of national titles with North Dakota and won Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986 and the Dallas Stars in 1999.
Kresl still remembers going to a Stanley Cup parade in Eagle River as a youngster.
The hockey tradition there is carried on by people like Larry Snedden. Kresl said Snedden is in his 70s, but taught him the game growing up and still gives him advice to this day.
It’s why tiny Eagle River can claim two players in the North American Hockey League, the second-best junior league in America.
Among Kresl’s teammates when he won conference player of the year as a senior at Northland Pines were Zach Kennedy, who plays for the Austin (Minnesota) Bruins of the NAHL, and Austin Ramesh, a redshirt sophomore fullback at the University of Wisconsin.
After graduating from Northland Pines in 2013, Kresl played Tier III hockey for the Salt Lake City Moose before getting called up to Kenai River for the last four games of the regular season and the playoffs.
That brief stint was not long enough to make him the property of the Brown Bears for 2014-15, and he was taken in the NAHL draft by the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings.
When things didn’t work out with the Wings, Kresl got a call while sitting in a duck blind in North Dakota from former Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant asking him to rejoin the Bears.
“I love it here,” Kresl said. “I could live here the rest of my life. I was happy I got a chance to come back and play again.”
Kresl’s 2014-15 campaign was disrupted by a dislocated elbow that cost him eight weeks. He had two goals and six assists in 31 games played.
“Last season, I learned to be more patient with the puck and I learned to think the game better,” he said.
Before this season, he was named alternate captain behind captain Jack Gessert. When Gessert was called up to the Tier I United States Hockey League during Christmas break, Kresl was named captain.
“It helped having Jack here, because I was able to learn a lot from him,” Kresl said. “He’s a close friend and it was hard to see him go.
“I’ve always been a leader, but this was a whole different level.”
Kresl, who has two goals and six assists this season, said the mounting losses in the second half of last season and this season have been tough, but he said he has still remained fixed on his goal of playing college hockey.
The losses led to Beauparlant being replaced as head coach by Jeff Worlton just under two weeks ago. Worlton has known Kresl a short time, but said the first impression is that of a reliable leader.
“It’s very important that he’s staying the course,” Worlton said. “He wants to finish what he started. I believe that says a lot about how much he does care for the program and cares about the Brown Bears.”
Worlton said he will turn the Brown Bears around, and when he does, he won’t forget about the role people like Kresl played.
Kresl isn’t looking for future credit as much as he is looking to even the score.
“I’m here to make the Brown Bears organization as good as it can be,” Kresl said. “All the guys that are still here just want to make the organization better.
“I want to give back to the team for the ton of opportunities that it has given me.”
While Kresl notes that one phone call can change everything, he is not planning on playing Division I hockey. He would like to play Division III hockey in northern Wisconsin.
There, he will major in something like construction management, a blue-white collar mix that he said suits his personality.
Kresl said he would love to return to Alaska to work in the summers during college, and he wouldn’t mind building upon Alaska experiences he’s had with the Brown Bears for the rest of his life. Kresl has done a lot of hiking here, has figured out a way to get his limit of salmon each day between track workouts and skates during training camp, and spent a weekend camping on an island at Hidden Lake.
“It rained the whole time, but still, how many other players in this league were getting an opportunity to do something like that?” he said. “It was special to share that with a group of guys.