Soldotna’s Preston Weeks committed Wednesday to play hockey at Division I University of Alaska Anchorage.
Weeks, 21, recently completed his fifth season with the Kenai River Brown Bears of the North American Hockey League.
“Being in Alaska, I love it up here,” said Weeks, the son of Byron and Lori Weeks of Soldotna. “The opportunity to go to school up here is a dream come true.”
Just before the league was shut down due to the new coronavirus, Weeks broke the NAHL record for games played. Despite losing the final eight games of the season and the playoffs, Weeks finished with 233 games to top the previous record of 231.
In his first four seasons with the Bears, Weeks did not appear in the playoffs. The Bears were very likely to play in the playoffs this year before the season was canceled.
“My initial thought was how bummed out I was, but then I took awhile to think about it and realized I’m in a lot better situation than a lot of people right now,” Weeks said. “I can’t be too upset. There are a lot of people in a lot worse situations.”
Missing out on the playoffs meant losing a valuable chance for more exposure, but Weeks earned the chance to walk on with UAA anyway.
“When we talked about college stuff, that was the one school he consistently brought up of where he’d love to be able to play,” Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock said. “At the end of the day, regardless of scholarship amount, it’s a really good opportunity.
“He has a chance to really make a name for himself with his work ethic, compete level and by beating guys out for spots. It’s a really good opportunity to be at that level.”
Weeks said in-state tuition will be nice. He also got good grades at Soldotna High School, but he hasn’t yet figured out if he can get academic money. Weeks also has already taken classes at Kenai Peninsula College, meaning he can get credit at UAA.
Murdock said Weeks is being rewarded for refusing to coast at the NAHL level.
“He could have thought, ‘OK. I’ve been there and done that. I don’t need to put in all the extra work to stay here,’” Murdock said. “He was consistently one of the first guys out on the ice working on stuff, and he also stayed after.
“He has the drive and work ethic to continue to improve. That’s why this opportunity is so great. If you continue to put in the work every single day, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Weeks, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defenseman, added more and more offensive pieces to his game. In 124 games in his first three seasons with the Bears, Weeks had just one goal. In the 2018-19 season, he had three goals and eight assists, while he ended this past season with five goals and 13 assists in 50 games.
Murdock also said Weeks is equipped to deal with the challenges of college classwork mixed with playing on a Seawolves team that does so much travel.
“This is an extremely mature kid,” Murdock said. “He’s been through the grind of travel playing a 60-game junior season in Alaska. Every road trip is a flight.”
Weeks said he has something to prove to the Division I schools that took a pass on him.
“I’ve invested a lot of time playing hockey,” Weeks said. “I want to keep getting better and better.”
Weeks also had praise for Murdock and his staff, who were set to guide the team to the playoffs in their first season.
“I’ve just been super impressed with Kevin this year,” Weeks said. “He’s been awesome. He’s improved things in every aspect.”
The Bears now have 13 college commitments listed this season from past and current players, including seven at the Division I level.
Kenai River also had three Division III commitments recently with Cody Moline going to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Connor Scahill going to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Jack Quinn going to Hobart College in Geneva, New York.
“At the end of the day, this is a development level,” Murdock said. “As much as our job is to win games, it’s more about developing them to make the next step and provide them with opportunities.”
In other Brown Bears news, Kenai River tender Lucas Wahlin earned the North American 3 Hockey League Rookie of the Year. Wahlin had 32 goals and 27 assists in 38 games for the North Iowa Bulls this season. He jumped in with the Brown Bears for three games and scored three goals.