Hot off a three-year run with his hometown Kenai River Brown Bears, Soldotna skater Brad Duwe took his talents to the University of Alaska Anchorage in fall 2013 and made his mark before the year was out.
With a chance to extend the Seawolves season and do it in the most glamorous way possible, Duwe scored the game-winning goals against the in-state rival Fairbanks Nanooks in consecutive elimination games, sending UAA off to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinals.
The highlight of the season seems far in the past now, but it helped Duwe leave an indelible mark on the UAA hockey program.
“He went down and scored potentially the biggest goal in UAA history,” said current UAA head coach Matt Thomas. “It was a big time goal, it was a nice one, and it was typical Brad Duwe.”
Duwe, a UAA senior, recently capped a four-year college career with the Seawolves, and like every student-athlete at the end of a successful collegiate sports career, was at a crossroads of whether to pursue the possibility of a run at the professional leagues.
The Soldotna native envisioned an NHL career from an early age, when he would skate with the older kids during his father’s Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association practices.
But all good players know when their time is up, and for Duwe, that time is now.
“I have no regrets at all,” Duwe said in a phone interview from his Anchorage home. “Everybody’s dream at first is to go to the NHL, but after playing it for 20 years, I was thinking it was just a dream to play college hockey as well.”
The 2011 SoHi graduate finished his career with UAA with a 34-62-12 record in games he played, and a career scoring mark of 32 points (22 goals, 10 assists), but to fellow players, coaches and fans, he was the guy that could be counted on in key situations.
“He always had the knack for that big goal,” Thomas said. “His timing was good, I can think of him scoring a big goal for us to beat Arizona State his junior year.
“He was a big, clutch scorer for our program, that was kind of his calling card.”
The 24-year-old is now setting his sights on obtaining a double major, getting bachelor degrees in science technology and occupational safety and health. The hard work has apparently paid off, as Duwe has received All-Academic awards the previous three years.
But his days as a bona fide competitive skater are done.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to join a men’s league team or something,” he said. “It’s nice because I’m still living up (in Anchorage), and I still go to the rink every so often, but I definitely have noticed I have more free time right now.”
Duwe’s progression as a puckster can be traced to his earliest days, when he would toddle around on skates as an 18-month-old with parents, Todd and Joyce, on the frozen lake in front of his family’s house. His father was a KPHA coach and Brad’s fandom was a shoo-in.
“My parents were huge in my success,” Duwe said. “Every time my dad would go to the rink, I’d go with him and skate with older teams.”
Todd ended up coaching his son in the PeeWee division until Brad progressed to the Bantam Tier I level around age 10. That was when the passion really began to set in, as costs skyrocketed with multiple trips a week up to Anchorage to play for the Alaska All-Stars.
“My parents sacrificed a lot,” Duwe said. “They drove me up four times a week, right after school. On the drive me home I would do homework.”
Duwe starred for the Soldotna Stars high school squad for two seasons, where he received North Star Conference MVP honors as a sophomore and helped SoHi to win the NSC title in 2009, before he made the transition to the Kenai River Brown Bears. In between that, the forward helped the All-Stars team take third place in the U16 national tournament.
After finishing out his high school career playing for the Brown Bears, Duwe took a year off for personal reasons and returned in Dec. 2012 with a renewed hunger. Duwe led Kenai River in scoring that season, which ended with a playoff berth.
In all, Duwe finished with 41 goals and 60 assists in 123 games with the Bears, a run that caught the attention of UAA scouts. The impressive numbers were enough to land him an offer to play for the Seawolves and start his collegiate career in fall 2013.
“While I was playing (in Soldotna), it was such a close commute to Anchorage, and the coaches saw me and offered me a spot on the UAA team,” Duwe recounted. “You talk to a lot of schools, but it comes down to actually making it happen.”
Like Duwe, head coach Matt Thomas was also joining the Seawolves as new head coach. While Thomas wasn’t a part of the UAA staff that offered Duwe a spot on the team, he said the young player worked hard to gain a starting spot in the squad.
“My first impression was this guy can really shoot a puck,” Thomas said. “Since his freshman year, he started as the odd man out, sitting in the stands, and worked really hard and ended up scoring some big goals for us.”
Thomas felt Duwe fit in well with his coaching philosophy, which was to assemble a team that opponents feared and a team that played hard, aggressive, in-your-face hockey. Thomas wanted a team that opponents found tough to play against on any night.
“The hard thing is getting the players that fit that style on a consistent basis,” Thomas said.
In his debut season, Duwe rattled off seven goals and one helper, a team-high among freshmen. At the end of the season in March 2014, Duwe was hanging on with a Seawolves contingent that finished out the regular season at 16-14-4 overall and in need of a playoff spark.
The Nanooks won the best-of-three series opener 3-2 in overtime, and had taken a 1-0 lead in the first period of the second game thanks to Colton Parayko, who now skates professionally for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues.
However, UAA got back to even ground with a goal early in the second period, and the Nanooks suddenly found themselves trailing 2-1 on a goal by Duwe less than two minutes later. UAA held on through the final 35 minutes to force a winner-take-all Game 3 the next night.
“There were a lot of emotions rolling into that weekend,” Duwe said. “The seniors we had that year were the last ones that made it to the Final Five as freshmen.
“They told us in the locker room how big of a game this was. The leadership we had was great.”
In the Saturday night affair, Anchorage held two-goal leads on two separate occasions, but Fairbanks battled back both times and tied the contest up at 4-all with 5:13 remaining in the third period.
With 2:45 to play in the game, Duwe found himself open in front of the net after a pass from the corner by offensive linemate Blake Tatchell, and managed to poke the puck in for the go-ahead goal.
“It’s just kind of one of those things, the game changes so fast if you’re in the right area,” he said. “Being able to do that in Fairbanks, against Fairbanks, was great. Those games get brought to a whole other level.”
The Seawolves ultimately saw their season end the next week in a WCHA semifinal game against Ferris State, which toppled Anchorage 5-4 in overtime.
Duwe never ranked higher than ninth on UAA’s point scoring list in a season, but seemed to always find himself in those big game situations. The 2013-14 season also featured a 3-2 victory over the Wisconsin Badgers, and in Oct. 2015, Duwe was the one who provided the game-winner in overtime over Arizona State.
Beginning with the two game-winners to oust Fairbanks in the WCHA playoffs his freshman year, Duwe finished with six go-ahead points for his career, including four goals.
Duwe opened his senior year last fall on the bench after going ahead with knee surgery. After missing the first seven games of the year, Duwe returned in star fashion Nov. 4 against Alabama Huntsville, scoring twice in a 5-2 loss.
“You knew he was a complement player,” Thomas said. “He could turn our line into a deadly line, he had that ability to be a shooter.
“The big thing for him when he was on his game, he was a real threat in the slot area.”
Duwe said Thomas’ coaching helped ease the transition back to competition after everyone else had two weeks under their belts.
“Every day he’s coming up with something, critiquing me,” Duwe said. “It’s a process, and it’s tough to pinpoint one thing. But there’s always more to learn, and different people have different ideas.”
Living in Anchorage has its perks, Duwe said, but he never strays far enough from the peninsula. Duwe mingled with over 1,200 other Brown Bears supporters for the team’s final home weekend of the year on Mar. 26 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, a rink that he has spent countless hours on growing up, and says he will always return for fishing and hunting excursions. He hopes to reel in something bigger than his lifetime best 50-pound king salmon he caught as a younger lad.