The Kenai River Brown Bears, set to embark on their 13th season next fall, named Kevin Murdock, 28, on Thursday as the eighth head coach in franchise history.
Murdock will be charged with ending a five-year North American Hockey League playoff drought and becoming the only Bears head coach other than Oliver David to finish with a record over .500 for Kenai River.
The Bears also announced that Dan Bogdan will remain with the team as associate head coach. Bogdan served as interim head coach when Josh Petrich resigned for personal reasons Feb. 10. Bogdan guided the team to an 8-8-1-1 record down the stretch.
With Bogdan, as well as General Manager Nate Kiel and Associate General Manager Chris Hedlund, Murdock said the pieces are in place for the Bears to have success.
“I really haven’t thought too much about why past coaches haven’t been able to finish over .500,” Murdock said. “I’m thinking more about how Dan, Chris, Nate and I can continue this thing in the right direction and get it back to where it was when Oliver David was there.”
Murdock had been the associate head coach at the North Iowa Bulls of the Tier III NA3HL. According to a press release from the Bears, in his three seasons, Murdock helped the Bulls to a record of 119-31-7-3, two regular season division championships and two trips to the Fraser Cup championships.
Murdock also helped promote 40 players to the Tier II NAHL and college level, including five currently playing Division I.
As a goaltender, Murdock also had playing stops at prep powerhouse Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, the Tier I United States Hockey League, Division I Lake Superior State University and even a couple short pro stints in the ECHL.
Murdock said Todd Sanden, head coach and general manager of the Bulls, played a huge role in preparing Murdock for the Kenai River job.
“He helped me most getting the lay of the land from the junior aspect,” Murdock said. “He got me more familiar with the operational side of hockey as a coach versus as a player.”
Hedlund said Murdock’s knowledge of what it takes to be a head coach stood out in interviews.
“He came to the interview committed to our program,” Hedlund said. “You could tell he looked at it and put himself in it as if it was his next job.
“We asked him a lot of questions and he answered them as if he was the next head coach and really wanted the job.”
Murdock said the top thing that makes the job attractive is Kenai River’s fans and community.
“As far as what you hear about this organization, the fans and community are the No. 1 thing people have to say,” Murdock said. “Like I said before, they’re one of the best in the NA.
“It’s pretty much all you could ask for in terms of community support.”
Murdock said he is looking forward to working with the organization to make sure the Bears keep on volunteering a lot around town.
Murdock graduated from Lake Superior State with degrees in parks and recreation, and natural resource technology. He had internships with both the United States Forest Service and Department of Natural Resources on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
He also spent some time in Utah a few years ago and loved being around mountains.
“I’ll be around mountains and I’ll be on water,” said Murdock, who has been to Alaska but never the central Kenai Peninsula. “It seems to be the perfect fit.”
Both Murdock and Hedlund said things are coming together for the Bears as well.
After making the playoffs in the 2013-14 season, the team had 16, 4, 12 and 18 wins before improving to 23 last season.
“I feel we’re in good shape,” Hedlund said. “We obviously have to replace some forwards, but we have a strong core defensively and we could get (goalie) Gavin (Enright) back on the back end.
“I think we’re ready to take the next step. We need to add another good crop of players and we should be playoff bound.”
Murdock said it became apparent after talking to Bogdan for over an hour that the two would form a good coaching team.
“He’s a good fit,” Murdock said. “We’ll feed off each other and help each other on areas we need to improve on.”
Murdock said his recruiting contacts are in the Midwest, while Bogdan has good contacts on the East Coast. Bogdan is very good at player development, but Murdock has more experience coaching at the junior level.
Murdock also said Bogdan has spent a year on the central peninsula and traveling arond the NAHL, so that experience will come in handy.
Like Hedlund, Murdock said the Bears are on the cusp of the playoffs. But Murdock sounded a lot like Bogdan during his interim period when Murdock said he’s more concerned with getting better each day right now than he is with the playoffs.
“I don’t think you can look too far ahead,” he said. “Take care of the things right in front of you and things generally work out for you.”
Murdock is currently scouting talent in Michigan. He is not sure when he will make his first appearance on the peninsula.