Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Markuss Komuls shields the puck in a practice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Markuss Komuls shields the puck in a practice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears’ Komuls seamlessly makes transition from Latvia to America

For some players, coming all the way to Alaska to play junior hockey is daunting.

Not for Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Markuss Komuls. Komuls, now 19, came to the United States from Latvia when he was just 16 to play junior hockey.

“I want to play in college and this is a step to reaching that goal,” Komuls said.

Latvia is a country of almost 2 million people in northern Europe. Hockey is extremely popular and Komuls followed his brother, Miks, into the sport when Markuss put on skates at the age of 4.

Miks, now 24, currently coaches young players in Latvia. Markuss saw that staying in Latvia limited the options in Miks’ hockey career, so Markuss did not hesitate when he had the opportunity to come to America.

“I really wanted to go and my parents supported me,” said Markuss of father, Aivis Komuls of Talsi, Latvia, and mother, Evita Balinska of Ventspils, Latvia.

Komuls played for the Vermont Lumberjacks for two years before moving up to the Tier II North American Hockey League with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights last season.

After starting this season with the Knights, Komuls requested a trade. Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich saw Komuls at the NAHL Showcase. Petrich knows Lumberjacks coach Doc Delcastillo and, after getting a positive recommendation, made the deal for Komuls.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pounder does not count against the limit for foreign players since he has already played in America for three years. After this season, he has one year of junior eligibility left.

“He’s come in and done a lot of what we asked,” Petrich said. “He’s got a very good stick, moves pucks well and is solid defensively.

“The D corps was really young and he’s been a veteran presence that has calmed the blue line a bit.”

There are currently five players from Latvia on NAHL rosters, including Brown Bears forward Emils Ezitis. By the end of this weekend, all will have competed on the ice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Roberts Baranovskis and Gustavs Grigals played for the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs on Oct. 20 and 21, and Robert Blueger of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs will visit today and Saturday.

Shreveport coach Karlis Zirnis also is from Latvia. He will coach Komuls and Ezitis at the Division I Group A U20 World Championships in France from Dec. 10 to 16.

Komuls said the hardest thing about being in the United States is being so far away from the food and family he likes.

All the other adjustments came quickly. He learned English in school and said by his second year here, he felt comfortable speaking the language.

He also said Americans make more frequent use of the automobile.

“Even if it is a small town in Latvia, everything is close together,” Komuls said. “I’m from a town of 10,000 people and I can get to everything with a 20- or 30-minute walk.”

The defenseman said hockey also has been an adjustment. He said in Europe, the ice is bigger and there is not as much hitting.

“I don’t have as much time to make skilled plays,” Komuls said. “I don’t think it’s taken me much time to adapt.”

Coming to the Brown Bears and the vast ice sheet of the sports complex means Komuls now gets the space to which he is accustomed. While Komuls said he won’t spend the rest of his life in Alaska, he said he loves the views of the mountains across Cook Inlet, especially since Latvia is mostly flat.

He also said he enjoys getting more fans at home games than showed up for the Knights.

“It’s been a good experience,” said the billet son of Jesse Lindall of Soldotna. “I don’t think a lot of people get a chance to live in Alaska.”

After notching eight goals and 19 assists in 53 games last season for the Knights, Komuls has two goals and six assists for the Bears in 11 games this season. Petrich and Komuls agreed that the defenseman’s strengths are passing and the power play.

“He can always improve his skating, and his play on the penalty kill is not something that comes naturally to him,” Petrich said. “But he’s done a good job and he should continue to improve over the next few months.

“He’s a great all-around kid and we’re excited to have him here.”

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