Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Connor Scahill knocks away the puck during practice Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Connor Scahill knocks away the puck during practice Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Brown Bears’ Scahill flourishes in switch from forward to defense

Connor Scahill would not be playing for the Kenai River Brown Bears right now if the defensemen on his Little Caesers 18U team had not been terrible during a game in the middle of last season.

One was told to undress in the locker room. Two more were benched. With more defensemen needed, one of the players the coach turned to was Scahill, who up until that point in his hockey career had always been a defensive forward.

Scahill notched a goal and two assists in the third period and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I told my coach I was more comfortable back there and asked if I could stay there,” Scahill said.

The 18-year-old firmly believes he would not be playing his rookie North American Hockey League season for the Brown Bears this season if it hadn’t been for the change.

“If I was still a forward, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

The change of positions is not common. Scahill told his teammates about it a few weeks ago and they thought it was nuts.

But the transition has not been difficult.

“It definitely hasn’t been that hard to adjust,” said the billet son of Tim Bornowski and Naomi Hodgson of Kenai. “You can’t play hockey if you can’t skate backward.”

Scahill added 2 inches to his stick to make poke-checking easier. He also added a healthy, goalie-style knob on the end of his stick to make it easier to grasp.

And voila. Scahill, who was cut from the Shreveport (Lousiana) Mudbugs after main camp before the 2016-17 season, was suddenly being invited to the Brown Bears main camp.

Scahill’s player adviser, Alec Austin, had played with Brown Bears assistant coach Nick Sova at Hamline University. Austin convinced the Bears to check out Scahill at their main camp.

“He came in and had a great main camp,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “He’s very fluid with the puck, a tough presence and a physical player.

“He was a very well-rounded defenseman at main camp.”

Suddenly, the Brown Bears and Scahill had a big decision to make, but the choice to bring the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder to the Kenai Peninsula for his senior year of high school was not tough at all.

“Anytime you take a kid out of high school, you want to be sure because it can be a bad experience if it doesn’t work out,” Petrich said. “He’s been everything we expected and he’s still got room to grow. He’s doing a great job.”

Scahill also had to decide if he wanted to leave his friends and family for his senior year of high school.

“It’s tough being away for my senior year, because I’ll miss things like Friday night football and dances, but I’m living my dream,” Scahill said. “I know that means I’ll have to make sacrifices and I’m willing to do it.

“I’ll be able to see family and friends at Christmas and in the summer.”

Scahill started skating at the age of 3, following his father, John, and older brother, Luke, into the sport.

While Connor said his mother, Shelley, balked a little bit at him coming to Alaska, after all the sacrifices the family made for Connor to play pricey AAA hockey in the Detroit area, there was no doubt he would take the Alaska opportunity.

Petrich said Scahill has been a typical rookie thus far.

“In half the games he’s played in, he’s made mistakes and had issues,” Petrich said. “The other half, he’s looked like a seasoned guy that has been here a couple of years.”

Scahill, in his first games back from three games off due to an injury sustained after a crushing hit in Minot, North Dakota, on Oct. 7, had a big home-opening series for the Bears on Friday and Saturday against the same Mudbugs that had cut him.

Friday, he scored his first goal of the season on a laser from near the blue line to keep the Bears close in an eventual loss. Saturday, he had a key power-play goal that allowed Kenai River to reach a shootout and eventually earn two points.

Both goals showcased Scahill’s shot, an advantage he has from his forward days. Ironically, Scahill said he didn’t get to showcase his shot as a forward because his job was going to the corners and winning pucks, not scoring.

“When it’s time to shoot, I can relax because it’s something I’ve done a lot before,” Scahill said.

Petrich said the goals did not come out of nowhere. The coach said Scahill has to work on a few things, like strength and knowing when and when not to step up on rushes, but shooting is not one of those things.

“That doesn’t shock me at all,” Petrich said. “Connor has one of the heavier and more accurate shots on our team.”

Scahill is from Clyde, Michigan, an hour from Detroit, but a place he describes as more country than city.

“This is more my style,” he said of the peninsula. “I’m not really a city guy. I come from a country area.

“In the fall, I do hunting and fishing, and coming from Michigan, I’m no stranger to snow.”

Scahill also has the indelible memory of scoring the Bears’ first goal on home ice this season, a strike that was made more emotional because Kenai River almost folded after last season.

“It was a great experience scoring a goal and having all of those salmon on the ice,” Scahill said.

Even though Scahill is not a forward, Petrich said there are plenty more salmon in the defenseman’s future. After this season, he has two more years of junior eligibility.

“He’s like a lot of rookies in this league,” Petrich said. “He’s good now, and he’s going to be really good next year.”

More in Sports

Soldotna junior Brayden Taylor rushes the ball down the field during the Division II state football championship game against Lathrop at Service High School in Anchorage on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Lathrop snaps SoHi’s run of state titles

The Soldotna Stars football team fell to Fairbanks’ Lathrop High School in… Continue reading

Soldotna’s Gehret Medcoff runs for a touchdown against Wasilla on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Stars dominate major NLC football awards

Soldotna, which went undefeated in the Northern Lights Conference this season, won… Continue reading

tease
SoHi wrestlers take 4th at Houston Altercation

The Soldotna wrestling team finished fourth at the season-opening Houston Altercation Tournament… Continue reading

Kenai Central's Emma Beck attacks against Nikiski's Rylee Ellis on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Volleyball roundup: Kenai tops Nikiski; Wasilla sweeps SoHi

The senior civics project of Valerie Villegas was a smashing success Friday… Continue reading

Morgan Aldridge leads riders down a hill at the start of Week 3 of the Soldotna Cycle Series on Thursday, July 18, 2019, at Tsalteshi Trails. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Chainwreck Cyclocross Series holds final race of season

The Chainwreck Cyclocross Series wrapped up with the fifth race Thursday at… Continue reading

Nikiski's Rylee Ellis attacks against Soldotna's Ashlee Anderson on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, at Soldotna High School in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Volleyball roundup: SoHi, Kenai pull out wins

Staff report Host Soldotna celebrated its senior night with a 3-1 nonconference… Continue reading

Brock Wilson and Brayden Taylor lead Soldotna onto Justin Maile Field for a Division II semifinal against North Pole on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi football to play for 9th straight state title

Eight straight state titles, and 12 since 2006. An 18-game postseason winning… Continue reading

MJ Hendren pictured kayaking at Hidden Lake next to a large rock exposure. (Photo provided)
Refuge Notebook: Geology of the Kenai … it rocks!

One thing that never ceases to amaze me about living in Alaska… Continue reading

The pedicure in question has seen many miles of hiking and walking since it was first painted on five months ago. (Photo by Kat Sorensen)
Tangled Up in Blue: A perfect pedicure

There is just the smallest sliver of light pink nail polish left… Continue reading

Most Read