The Kenai River Brown Bears opened up training camp Monday at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility, preparing for their season opener Sept. 20 in Minnesota against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
New head coach Josh Petrich will begin working to get ready to submit a 25-man protected list to the North American Hockey League by Sept. 1, but just as importantly Petrich said he wants to start introducing the players to the community. There are currently 30 players in camp, with another to arrive shortly.
For starters, Petrich said fans are welcome at practices, which will all be held at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility until the Bears leave Sept. 18 for their road trip. The home opener at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex is not until Oct. 20 against the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs.
Practice Tuesday through Thursday will be 9 to 10 a.m., then 1:45 to 2:45 p.m. Next week, practice times change a little bit, but the Bears will be practicing weekdays, except for Sept. 4 and 15, from at least 9 to 10 a.m.
There will be a number of other opportunities to learn more about the team:
• Friday will be “Fish with the Bears.” For $195 per person, silver fishing is available on the Kenai River from 4 to 7:30 p.m. For $295 per person, halibut fishing out of Ninilchik is available, departing at 10:30 a.m. Each boat will have a Brown Bears player.
• Saturday, the team will be at Industry Appreciation Day.
• Sunday, the team will be at The Player’s Tournament at Bird Homestead Golf Course, with each group of three getting a Brown Bears player. The cost is $100 for an individual or $250 for a team of three. Signup is available at the course or at kenairiverbrownbears.com.
• Sept. 9 will be the Brown and Gold Game at 6 p.m. at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility.
• Sept. 15 and 16 will be exhibition games against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 7:30 p.m. in Kenai.
Petrich said he is excited about the mix of returning and new talent that is in training camp.
The Bears have 10 returners: forwards Jake Friedman, David Kaplan, Alex Klekotka, Luke Radetic and Carter Wade; defensemen Connor Fedorek, Jordin Holmes, Sam Sterne and Preston Weeks; and goalie Colt Hanks.
“In all my time in this league, if you can return 10 guys you’re doing a pretty good job,” Petrich said.
Of the 21 new faces, three were draft picks, two were tenders and one arrived via trade. That means 15 are free agents.
“We had a lot of shocking kids that showed up to camp that were good players, so we added them,” Petrich said.
Petrich said he is particularly excited about Swedish forward Gilito Garcia and the goaltending situation. There, Artur Pavliukov will eventually be in town and give the team 31 players once he is done with the Lithuanian national team.
Petrich also is happy to have seven Alaska skaters in camp: forwards Will Casey of Eagle River, Dalton Dosko of Kenai, Ross Hanson of Soldotna, Zach Krajnik of Eagle River and Sutton McDonald of Eagle River; and defensemen Connor Canterbury of Eagle River, Cam McDonald of Eagle River and Weeks of Soldotna.
“Our goal at main camp was to assemble as much talent as possible and let that talent sort itself out — let the cream rise to the top,” Petrich said.
The coach said the Bears were attractive to free agents for three reasons. First, players sensed opportunity due to a new coach taking over a team that finished 12-46-2-0 last season. Second, players want to be part of an organization that was energized last season after the Bears went dormant only to be brought back by a fan fundraising effort. And third, Petrich and assistants Nick Sova and Jed McGlasson tirelessly worked contacts to get new players.