As their season opener approaches Sept. 20 and their home opener looms Oct. 20, the Kenai River Brown Bears will have two events this weekend to allow fans to get a better feel for the team.
The Grub N Growl will be Friday, while the Brown and Gold Game will be Saturday.
The Grub N Growl is a preseason replacement for a dinner event that was typically held in the first half of the season. Head coach Josh Petrich said, once the season starts, the team had no open weekends until Christmas, so the event is being held Friday.
Taking place at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex from 7 to 11 p.m., the event includes a pasta dinner, music and door prizes.
Tickets are $20 and available at The Bears Den, Redline Sports and the Shipping Zone. The event has a no host bar and everybody attending must be 21 or over.
Saturday, the Brown and Gold Game will be 6 p.m. at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility. This is free to the public. From 2:45 to 3:45 p.m., Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association players get a chance to skate with the Bears. Then, for 45 minutes following the game, the public gets to skate with the team. The game will be three periods of 20 minutes.
“This is the first chance to see this year’s team compete,” Petrich said. “It’s going to be fun. We’re going to add some younger Alaska kids in it to round out the teams so guys aren’t gassed halfway through.”
Each side will have 14 skaters. Petrich said the game should be quite competitive, because spots on the team are on the line.
The Bears are down to 27 in their camp and will be down to 25 by the end of Sunday. Petrich said the choice will be tough.
“Our guys have made life very difficult for us,” Petrich said. “It’s been a very competitive camp and we’re excited about the guys we have involved.”
The coach said players have been buying into the system, competing hard and holding each other accountable.
“Fans should look for a team that can really skate and get the puck up and down the ice,” Petrich said. “I think they’ll see a more structured team than in the past.”
As of early in the week, Petrich hadn’t even started on special teams yet, preferring to get a foundation in place that includes team culture and defensive zone.
“I think fans will see a team that improves each time they see them, from the Brown and Gold Game to the two exhibitions to the Showcase,” Petrich said.
The Bears will scrimmage the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 and 16.
Petrich also said the players have been getting more accustomed to the community through events like a fishing day, golf tournament and an appearance at Industry Appreciation Day.
He said the players that went halibut fishing had never fished from a boat on the ocean before, and those that hit the river for silvers had never caught fish that big.
“As an organization, we have a couple of different currencies — money currency, fan-base currency and most importantly the currency of the players,” Petrich said. “Player currency is what they think of the program and what they are saying to potential players.
“Those two events (golfing and fishing) were big in the player currency department.”
Petrich then said the appearance at Industry Appreciation Day showed the joy the team can bring the community. The coach said that affirms his commitment for the players to do as much community outreach as possible this season.
“We want to build a demographic of Brown Bears fans through outreach because they support us so well,” Petrich said.