The Kenai River Brown Bears have reorganized their staff and their training camp in order to become an even bigger part of the community.
The Bears start training camp with 9:15 to 10:30 p.m. skates tonight and Friday at the Kenai Multipurpose Facility.
Sunday through Thursday, training camp moves to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex with skates from 10 a.m. to noon, then 6 to 7:30 p.m., each day.
Head coach Geoff Beauparlant said fans expressed an interest in getting to know players earlier in the season. Moving the second skate of the day to a time when most are off work allows that to happen.
“The whole idea in pushing the second session into the evening is so fans can watch us scrimmage and watch our practice formats,” Beauparlant said. “They can see what the guys are doing — how they work and train to get prepared.”
That week of training camp will culminate with the Brown and Gold Game on Aug. 28.
The 7:30 p.m. game at the sports complex also includes an opportunity to meet the players from 5:30 to 6:15 p.m. and free food from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Entry to the event is free.
“It’s all about trying to get the community excited about Brown Bears hockey,” Beauparlant said.
That’s also the impetus behind some restructuring of the Bears’ staff.
Beauparlant has been promoted to the title of associate general manager and head coach, while Nate Kiel will remain president and general manager.
Former director of scouting Josh Romano has been made director of player personnel, while Steve Washkalavitch will be the new director of scouting. In his new position, Romano will spearhead player and team initiatives, like a kids club and birthday parties.
So what do all the new titles mean for the community?
“The ultimate goal is to continue to build our brand within the community and become a bigger partner with the community,” Beauparlant said. “It’s not just going to be two or three things, it’s going to be five to 10 to 12 and hopefully more.
“It’s a small community, so there has to be an important connection between the amateur athletes and the kids.”
As the Bears head into their ninth year, Kiel said the organization is in a better position than ever to reach out to fans. Kiel gave Beauparlant credit for taking an active role in learning some of the general manager’s duties, and Kiel said cross-training across the board has made the organization stronger.
“We’ve found that having people trained in a number of different areas is a good idea just in case something happens and somebody needs some help,” Kiel said. “It’s no different than what most businesses do.”
Of course, Beauparlant also said he realizes the product on the ice is an important piece, and he also intends on improving that this year.
The Bears were 16-42-2 for a league-low 34 points last season. In 2013-14, Beauparlant’s first year at the helm, the team went 28-24-8 and narrowly missed beating the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Bears have 27 players in camp. That number must be cut to 25 by Sept. 1 and 23 by Oct. 1.
Beauparlant said 10 players are returners, as compared to the four returners that were in main camp last season.
The returners will be led by Jack Gessert, who paced the team with 27 goals and 48 points in 53 games last season. Gessert has already been named captain.
“He’s done a great job at camp,” Beauparlant said. “He’s focused, and he understands what’s at stake for our club and himself going into this season.”
The alternate captains will be returners Adam Kresl and Sam Carlson. Kresl had two goals and six assists in 31 games last season, while Carlson had four goals and two assists in 54 games.
Carlson was relatively raw after growing up in Kenny Lake, but Beauparlant said he has made a leap forward in his game after working with a skating coach and local hockey sage Vince Redford.
“He’s more powerful and he doesn’t get knocked off his skates as often,” Beauparlant said. “The work ethic has always been there, but he’s taken it to another level with his commitment and the skating coach piece.”
Several Peninsula skaters will be in camp trying to stick with the team. Homer product Tommy Bowe, who played last season in the Tier III Northern Pacific Hockey League, has made his mark as a physical forward.
Defensemen Preston Weeks, a junior who played for Soldotna High School as a freshman, will also be in camp. Beauparlant said Weeks is the tenth of 10 defensemen coming into camp, but he said the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has earned the invitation with a tough, pro-style game.
The Bears had tendered Kenai Central products Jake Eubank and Ross Hanson for this season, but neither made the training camp roster.
In addition to Bowe and Weeks, Alaskans on the roster are Evan Butcher of Anchorage, Croix Evingson of Anchorage and Braden Mitchell of Eagle River.
Colton Fletcher and Tanner Schachle, a pair of Wasilla skaters who played with the Bears last year, will almost certainly not be back with the team this year, according to Beauparlant.
The Bears announced on their Twitter account on July 15 that Schachle and Fletcher had been placed on indefinite suspension. Beauparlant said the Bears are currently looking to trade the players, and he will discuss their suspension more once the trade is made.
Returners in training camp on defense for the Bears are Jack Nickels, Jason Lem and Jeff Solow. Returners at forward, in addition to Gessert, Carlson and Kresl, are Cam Cook, Joey Sardina, Butcher and Nick Klishko.
Bears notes: The NAHL Board of Governors recently approved a change to a three-on-three overtime format and a three-round shootout for the upcoming season.
The league previously used a four-on-four, sudden-death overtime for five minutes, then, if there was still no winner, a five-round shootout.
The three-on-three overtime will be for five minutes. If a team takes a penalty, the opposition gets a four-on-three power play, and another penalty would net a five-on-three power play.
When the penalty expires in a four-on-three situation, four-on-four hockey would be played until the next whistle, when the teams would go back to three-on-three.
Beauparlant said the change was made to mirror the NHL, which also will be moving to a three-on-three overtime and three-round shootout in the upcoming season.
Beauparlant coached in the Southern Professional Hockey League in 2007-08 and used the three-on-three format. He said about 75 percent of the games ended in overtime. Last season, 44.4 percent of NHL games tied after regulation were decided in the four-on-four overtime.
On the massive, Olympic-sized sheet at the sports complex, three-on-three will give players tons of space.
“Our on our rink, there’s going to be a lot of room for playmaking,” Beauparlant said. …
The Players’ Golf Tournament will be Aug. 30 at Bird Homestead Golf Course. Registration is at 8 a.m., while the shotgun start is at 9 a.m. The tournament gives fans an opportunity to play a round of golf on a team including Brown Bears players. …
The University of Alaska Anchorage will play Mt. Royal on Oct. 2 at 7:07 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. UAA features Soldotna High School product Brad Duwe and former Brown Bears standout Alex Jackstadt, who is originally from Anchorage. Tickets are available at The Bears Den, at kenairiverbrownbears.com or at the door. …
Several recent coaches for the Bears have received promotions.
Former head coach Oliver David is now Associate Head Coach and Assistant General Manager with the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints.
Steve Murphy, a former assistant and head scout for the Bears, was recently made the interim head coach at Buffalo State in New York. Murphy is originally from Anchorage.