The good news kept coming for the Kenai River Brown Bears on Monday.
Fresh off a season-opening sweep Friday and Saturday at the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets, former Brown Bears defenseman Cam McDonald of Eagle River committed to Providence, which won the NCAA Championship in 2015, and Bears defenseman JJ Boucher was named the Midwest Division Star of the Week by the North American Hockey League.
“We’re 2-0, we’ve got our first Division I commitment in three years, and we’ve got the Player of the week headed into the Showcase. What more can we do?” said Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich.
McDonald, 17, played 59 games for the Brown Bears last season and had two goals and 37 assists. He earned NAHL All-Rookie Second Team honors and NAHL Midwest Division All Rookie honors. He joins Alaska products like Brad Duwe, Alex Jackstadt, Alec Butcher and Kris Oldham in being moved to the next level with the help of the Brown Bears.
Petrich said McDonald talked to 75 to 90 percent of the Division I schools in the country last season and was very deliberate and mature about making his decision.
He is currently on the preseason roster of the Muskegon (Michigan) Lumberjacks of the United States Hockey League, the only junior league in the United States at a higher level than the NAHL. All indications are McDonald will stick with the Lumberjacks.
Petrich said that McDonald’s ceiling is very high.
“Cam has high-end brain capacity,” Petrich said. “He can skate as good or better than anyone I’ve probably ever coached.
“His compete level is the difference-maker in his game. That’s undervalued when people look at him. He’s a good puck mover and a good skater, but the thing I love about him is his compete level — his desire to win and do anything to win.”
Petrich said early last season mountainous Fairbanks Ice Dogs defenseman Nolan Schaeffer leveled McDonald. Petrich feared the worst for his young defenseman, but McDonald passed the concussion protocol and wanted to know when he could go back in the game again.
Kenai River knew McDonald could be ticketed to the USHL so the club used its first-round pick on Boucher, another left-handed defenseman. Boucher, 19, of Ottawa, Ontario, had four assists and was plus-four in the sweep of Janesville.
Petrich said Boucher’s character and leadership stand out more than his stats. Boucher is not a captain or assistant captain, though Petrich said Boucher would love that honor.
“That doesn’t stop him from being a leader,” Petrich said. “Like I said Friday, we blocked more shots than in the first half of the season last year. He probably had 10 to 15 blocks on the weekend.
“He’s not afraid to sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team.”
The Bears open play at the NAHL Showcase on Wednesday against the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats at 7:30 a.m. ADT. With everything going so well, Petrich said the one bummer is the Bears don’t play at home until Oct. 5.
“The way things are going now, I can’t wait to get home and play in front of our home fans,” Petrich said.