The glass surrounding the ice Monday at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility was a biz hazy due to condensation.
But the view through the 365-day window of Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich could not have been clearer as the team started training camp building toward the Sept. 14 season opener at the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
“I like to look at things through a 365-day window, and the level has been raised so much,” Petrich said. “We’ve done our job in the last year.”
The coach said the scouting staff, as well as former assistant Nick Sova and current assistant Dan Bogdan, deserve credit for the collective talent of the 32 players in camp.
Petrich said all 32 players will get the full two weeks to prove they belong among the 25 that will make the first road trip, making for a tough decision for the coaches.
“That’s what you want out there,” Petrich said. “You don’t want to look out there on the first day and say, ‘We’re going to cut this guy and this guy and this guy.’”
There are 13 players at camp returning from last year’s team, while forward Lukas Millen of Anchorage is missing camp while rehabbing an injury.
In addition, Petrich said a handful of other players have experienced high levels of junior hockey, meaning over half of the players at the camp have the pace and strength that Petrich says a year at a high level bestows.
“It’s what we said all of last year,” Petrich said. “You have to learn to play in this league.”
With Petrich back for a second season and so many players returning, this camp isn’t about getting to know you as much as it is getting to know you better.
The coach has already named defenseman Preston Weeks, of Soldotna, and forward Michael Spethmann, of St. Cloud, Minnesota, as co-captains. Weeks will wear the “C” at home, while Spethmann gets the honor on the road.
Weeks, who also was captain last year, begins his third full season with the Brown Bears, and fourth overall. He still has one year of junior eligibility after this season.
The Soldotna High School product is seeing the results of Petrich’s plan to bring in the players early and do some team bonding before training camp.
“It’s the first time I’ve known everybody’s name before the first skate with the coaches,” Weeks said. “We’re close already. It’s pretty amazing.”
Weeks said half the team did a hike up Hideout Mountain and saw a black bear. Half of the players also have taken advantage of the solid run of silvers and pinks and landed fish.
Saturday, the team was at Industry Appreciation Days, where the Bears picked up the award for Outstanding Support Business in Tourism.
Sunday, the team rafted the upper Kenai River with Alaska Rivers Company.
With so many returners, Weeks said leadership is plentiful and drills are running smoothly. He is more than happy to share some of it with Spethmann, who is in his final year of eligibility and had 12 goals and 13 assists last season.
Spethmann has shown his affinity for the outdoors with 30- and 40-day canoe trips heading north from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, under his belt.
“I love it here,” he said. “I definitely stay busy when I’m not working on hockey.”
Spethmann showed his commitment to hockey by spending the entire summer with a hockey stick, and not a paddle, in his hands.
Like the rest of the returners, he wants to improve on the 18-38-1-3 record of a year ago, the second worst in the league. He focuses on the team finishing with a 3-0-1 spurt against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
“I think everybody saw what we can do in those last few games against Fairbanks,” Spethmann said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”
When Petrich had each player stand up and give team goals, the aspirations were either ending a four-year drought in the playoffs or winning the Ravn Cup for the first time. The Ravn Cup is the seasonlong battle with the Ice Dogs.
“When they were going around the room saying team goals, they weren’t saying it because that’s what the coaches wanted to hear,” Petrich said. “They were saying it because they believed it.”
Bogdan is ready to use his technical expertise in order to help the team achieve those goals. Bogdan played Division III hockey with Framingham State University in Massachusetts, graduating in 2014.
As a sophomore, he started doing skating coaching.
“His skill work and individual skating work are second to none,” Petrich said.
Last season, Bogdan served as the on-ice strength and conditioning coach for Division I University of Connecticut. On-ice strength and conditioning coach is NCAA speak for skating coach.
Bogdan plans to use 10 to 15 minutes each day to focus on details like edgework, stride and explosiveness.
“It’s not that their skating and skill isn’t already good, but the game is only getting faster,” Bogdan said. “The NHL is faster and faster every year.”
Bogdan also will use his expertise in the gym and nutrition to help the players maintain strength during the season. Last season, the Bears didn’t have a gym, but this year they get to use The Fitness Place.
Bogdan has skating clients from youth hockey to pros, so he also wants to help the Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association groom good skaters.
In that vein, Petrich said the whole organization once again wants to be involved in the community. While last year’s team didn’t pile up wins on the ice, Petrich said the team set a high bar for community service that he wants to eclipse this season.
Finally, Petrich said the team is making good on being Alaskans’ first choice for junior hockey by currently having eight players from Alaska.
They are Weeks, Millen, Connor Canterbury of Eagle River, Zach Krajnik of Eagle River, Kevin Lake of Anchorage, Sutton McDonald of Eagle River, Ryan Reid of Anchorage and Porter Schachle of Wasilla.
“We are nonprofit,” Petrich said. “The community owns us. We want to make sure the community knows we appreciate the opportunities given to players and coaches.”
All practices are open to the public and at the Multi-Purpose Facility.
This week, the team practices from 8:45 to 10 a.m. and 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. today, Wednesday and Friday. Thursday, practice is from 8:45 to 10 a.m. with an intrasquad scrimmage at 1:15.
Saturday, the team practices from 8:30 to 10 a.m., Monday practice is from 6 to 7 p.m. and Sept. 4 practice is from 9 to 10:30 a.m.
Sept. 5 practices are 9 to 10:30 a.m. and 1:15 to 2:45 p.m., while Sept. 6 practice is from 9 to 10:30 a.m., and Sept. 8 practice is from 7 to 8:15 p.m.
The big day is Sept. 7, when the Bears practice from 9 to 10 a.m., then have the Brown-Gold Game at 6:30 p.m., followed by a skate with the Bears.
Brown Bears training camp roster
Johan Bok, Sweden; JJ Boucher, Ottawa, Canada; Connor Canterbury, Eagle River; Jack Conroy, Chicago; Justin Daly, Delano, Minnesota; Gavin Enright, Farmington, Minnesota; Emils Ezitis, Latvia; Sacha Guillemain, France; Filip Karlsson, Sweden; Alex Klekotka, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Markuss Komuls, Latvia; Zach Krajnik, Eagle River; Kevin Lake, Anchorage; Josh Maucieri, Crosby, Minnesota; Sutton McDonald, Eagle River; Cody Moline, North Branch, Minnesota; Patrik Peltola, Finland; Joey Petronack, White Bear Lake, Minnesota; Bradley Postula, Portage, Michigan; Ryan Reid, Anchorage; Logan Ritchie, St. Louis, Missouri; Chris Rubenach, Denmark; Connor Scahill, Port Huron, Michigan; Porter Schachle, Wasilla; Michael Spethmann, St. Cloud, Minnesota; Alex Stuckert, Woodbury, Minnesota; Andrew Walker, Mason, Michigan; Thomas Walker, Orono, Minnesota; Andrew Warhoftig, Dallas, Texas; Preston Weeks, Soldotna; Dennis Westergard, Sweden; Findlay Wood, Australia.