Taylor Shaw coaches against the Minnesota Magicians on Saturday, April 9, 2022, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska. Shaw was elevated from interim head coach to head coach by the Kenai River Brown Bears on Thursday, April 28, 2022. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears elevate Shaw to head coach

The Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League named Taylor Shaw as their next head coach Thursday.

Shaw started with the Brown Bears as an assistant coach for the 2021-22 season. He took over as interim head coach when Josh Dubinsky was fired 19 games into the season.

When Dubinsky was fired, the Brown Bears opened up the application process for head coach to everybody.

“For me, the biggest focus was trying to get the guys back on track, so I hadn’t thought too much about it,” Shaw said. “The leadership group within the organization, around January, asked if I was interested in going through the interview process.

“My family and I thought it might be a good fit.”

Nate Kiel, the general manager for the Brown Bears, said he was impressed as he saw Shaw work.

“I think he inherited a difficult situation and right to the end, despite their record and not making the playoffs, he had a lot of things going in the right direction overall,” Kiel said. “The overall culture was good and players respected the coach they were playing for.”

As the season went on, Kiel thought Shaw got better and better.

“I liked the evolution over the second half of the season, especially watching him grow, develop and show maturity. He was very good around the kids in the community. He’s very invested in this and very driven. We need coaches and players that have bought in, and we think coach Shaw brings it.”

Shaw said he agreed to take the head coaching job about a month ago and has been working to finalize the staff ever since.

According to a press release from the Bears, Shaw is a native of Sartell, Minnesota, and previously served in various positions with the Gillette (Wyoming) Wild of the NA3HL.

Shaw said his wife, Brittany Shaw, and stepchildren, MacKenna and Carlen See, will remain in the Lower 48 while he coaches in Alaska.

“My family has been super supportive in the process,” he said.

The Bears were 3-16-0-0 when Shaw took over. He led the team to an 11-25-3-2 record the rest of the way.

“I think the biggest thing is if you came to any of the games over the last few months, the boys were certainly playing hard,” Shaw said. “We were certainly winning games against teams that we should not have beaten.”

Shaw also said the community responded to that brand of hockey, with over 1,000 showing up many nights despite the lack of wins.

“We really had great support throughout the year, and some of that is a testament to how hard the players and coaches were working,” Kiel said.

Kenai River had traded away most of the players in their last year of junior eligibility by the trade deadline, leaving Shaw to coach a young team. The flip side is the team could bring back 17 returners, according to Shaw. With tenders and draft picks, the Brown Bears will be a tough team to make.

“We like the pieces that we’re bringing back and we like the players coming in,” Shaw said. “All signs point to a better direction. Quite frankly, this community deserves a winning hockey team.”

Kiel is excited about all the tenders and draft picks the team has. Even better, he said, players are excited to come and play for Shaw and his staff.

The assistant coaches will be Dean Weasler and Jake Leitner.

Weasler, a former St. Cloud State University goalie, was the assistant coach last season. Weasler has 18 years of coaching experience, including a lot at the high school level.

“He’s a rink rat,” Shaw said. “It’s hard to stay away from the rink when you truly have the game in your blood. He was a big part of turning the ship in the right direction. Our guys are looking forward to having him back on staff.”

Leitner has four years of playing experience in the NAHL and turned his focus to coaching after a career-ending injury.

“I know some of his mentors and he seemed like a great fit,” Shaw said. “I know the guys will certainly lean on him because he’s a veteran presence in the league.”

Dan Daikawa will continue as director of player development. Daikawa has NAHL head coaching experience and works for MAP in Minnesota, a program that develops elite hockey players.

“He’s an extra eye with a lot of experience in certain things,” Shaw said. “Everybody looks at something a bit different and his input is huge for our group.”

Shaw also thanked Kiel for the opportunity. Kiel has stepped back in as the general manager and Chris Hedlund, the former GM, has left the organization. Hedlund had been GM for four years. Kiel has been GM for all the other seasons for the Bears, except for the first season. Kenai River just completed its 15th season, which Kiel said makes the Bears the third oldest team in the league.

Kiel said the job became tough for Hedlund, who is based in Minnesota. Kiel gave Hedlund credit for guiding the Bears through the chaos of the pandemic.

“Chris did a phenomenal job, especially in difficult times, and we thank him for all the work he poured in,” Kiel said. “In helping us navigate the couple seasons of the COVID debacle, he really jumped through a lot of hoops and extra measures.

“To his credit, he decided to play. Some teams didn’t and opted to take a break during COVID.”

Shaw also is excited that Barak Braslavski and Caden Triggs, a pair of aged out players, made commitments in the past two weeks.

Triggs will play NCAA Division III hockey with Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.

“It’s an opportunity to play for the hometown school he grew up watching,” Shaw said.

Braslavski will play in American Collegiate Hockey Assocation Division I hockey for the University of Oregon. The ACHA is the governing body for non-NCAA hockey in the United States.

“Barak really wanted to go to a West Coast school climbing the ladder of ACHA hockey,” Shaw said.

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