Ross Hanson is now one step closer to coming home.
Hanson, a sophomore in high school, signed a tender with the Kenai River Brown Bears on Wednesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
As a freshman, Hanson played with Kenai Central, but this season he is playing with the Pikes Peak Miners 16U National AAA team in Colorado.
Hanson, the son of Chris and Michael Hanson of Kenai, leads his squad with five goals and nine points, and is tied for the team lead with four assists.
“I would rather be playing around here, but this is what’s best for me,” said Hanson, who is home for Thanksgiving break.
A tender does not guarantee Hanson will be pulling on a Brown Bears sweater next season. It gives the Bears exclusive North American Hockey League rights to Hanson, meaning nobody else can draft him.
“I still have to work harder to develop my game,” Hanson said. “I have to get bigger if I am going to play with the older guys.
“I think I should be able to hold my own.”
Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said Hanson has been on the team’s radar due to being a local player, and due to his performance at main camp before this season.
“What we really like about him is he skates extremely well,” Beauparlant said. “The big rink suits his style of game. He also thinks the game very well.”
Part of the reason for having junior hockey on the Peninsula is that local players don’t have to leave the state at an early age to pursue a Division I scholarship. Beauparlant said being a local player is an advantage, but it guarantees nothing.
“He’s going to have to work to improve strength and continue to develop as an all-around player,” the coach said. “He also has to develop more of a scoring touch.”
Should Hanson make the team with a 1998 birthdate, he would be young but not terribly so. This season, the Bears have three on the roster with 1997 birthdates — Tanner Schachle and Colton Fletcher of Wasilla and Jack Nickels of Carol Stream, Illinois.
“We always like to have a good mix,” Beauparlant said. “We typically expect about 50 percent roster turnover. We’ll definitely have room for a ’98 or two.”
The Bears also tendered goaltender Nick Nast, a 1997 birthdate from California, this week. Nast also was at the Bears’ main camp.