Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.
Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.

Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock. Former Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.

Former Bears coach Murdock accepts UAA assistant job

Kevin Murdock, former head coach of the Kenai River Brown Bears, has been named assistant coach of Division I University of Alaska Anchorage, UAA head coach Matt Shasby announced Wednesday.

Murdock took over the Bears before the 2019-20 season and went on to become the most successful coach in the history of the franchise, which began play in the 2007-08 season. He finished with a record of 47-40-4-4 for the North American Hockey League team.

After putting the Bears on the path to earning a playoff berth in the 2019-20 season before the coronavirus pandemic canceled the rest of the season, Murdock led the Bears to their first playoff berth since 2014 last season.

Kenai River general manager Chris Hedlund announced in a May 3, 2021, press release that Murdock had resigned to pursue other opportunities in the NAHL. That opportunity turned out to be associate head coach and associate general manager of the North Iowa Bulls of the NAHL.

Josh Dubinsky took over as interim head coach for the rest of the 2020-21 season and led the Bears, the No. 4 seed from the Midwest Division, to an upset of the top-seeded Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets in the first round of the playoffs. That was the first playoff series victory in Kenai River history.

The Bears then pushed the Minnesota Magicians to five games in the Midwest Division finals, coming up just one game short of the Robertson Cup Finals.

Working with head coach and general manager Todd Sanden, Murdock continued to have success this season. The Bulls are 13-6-0-2, good for second place in the Central Division.

“Kevin is one of the brightest young minds in hockey who has a reputation of being a player’s coach who gets the most out of his teams,” Shasby said in a released statement. “His knowledge of the current player pool, ability to recruit, and his network is going to help establish the Seawolves very quickly on the recruiting circuit.”

Murdock showed he could take the Brown Bears to new heights. He now will help with a challenge for the Seawolves.

The UAA hockey program was eliminated by the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents in 2020. The Seawolves didn’t play in the 2020-21 season and are not playing this season.

Previous head coach Matt Curley stepped down in June 2021 and all of the previous players from the program are gone.

However, a $3 million fundraising effort saved the program and gave it some momentum — momentum Shasby said he is looking to capitalize on when he was named head coach Oct. 20.

“He spent two years as head coach rebuilding the Kenai River Brown Bears NAHL team into a playoff contender and then moved on to the staff at North Iowa, where he had them in first place this year,” Shasby continued in the released statement. “On top of that, he is a former goalie who has an exceptional eye for finding and developing goaltenders at an elite level.

“We couldn’t be more excited about what Kevin brings to our staff.”

Before the 2020-21 season, Murdock plucked goalie Luke Pavicich from the dispersal draft. This was the draft of players from franchises that did not play that season due to the pandemic.

Pavicich went on to make the All-NAHL Second Team at goaltender and commit to University of Massachusetts-Amherst, which won the NCAA Division I title in 2021.

“I would like to thank Matt Shasby and the UAA athletic staff for giving me this opportunity to become part of the university,” Murdock said in a released statement. “I am eager to get to work helping to rebuild the UAA men’s hockey program.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the program continue to move in the right direction.”

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