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22 in 22: Kenai River Brown Bears

August 31, 2015
The 22 Teams in 22 Days series features a look at all 22 teams in the NAHL for the 2015-16 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 11th.  22 in 22 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 22 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2015-16 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 22 in 22 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Kenai River Brown Bears
Head Coach: Geoff Beauparlant (3rd year)
2014-15 record: 16-42-2, 34 pts. (5th in the Midwest Division)
2014-15 leading scorer: Jack Gessert (48 points)
2015 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2015-16 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 11th vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Home opener: Friday, September 11th vs. Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Last year did not go as planned for the Kenai River Brown Bears. A year after posting 28 wins and making the playoffs, the Brown Bears struggled to find consistency in 2014-15 and after a promising first three months of the season, struggled down the stretch. Although Kenai River had problems defending its own net, allowing the second most goals in the league last season, their Achilles heel may have been the team’s lack of production on the offensive side. The Brown Bears were a middle of the pack team when it came to shots per game, but their goals per game (2.20) were 23rd out of 24 teams last season. At the end of November, the Brown Bears were close to being a .500 hockey team, but five wins in their last 39 games of the season put them out of the playoff race.
Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant, who is entering his third season with the team in 2015-16, said that team chemistry was the #1 reason behind the lack of success last season. “I don’t think our group ever gelled like we thought they would and that type of team chemistry is so important throughout the season. It is something I take full responsibility for. I am not sure we did enough as a staff to help the guys become a close group and a family,” said Beauparlant. “We had a lot of turnover from the year before, but that is no excuse. I think we could have made some different personnel decisions as well, so overall we are going to learn from it, put it behind us and look forward to this season.”
Looking ahead to the 2015-16 season, Beauparlant pointed to two main things he was looking for when building this year’s squad, goaltending and consistency on offense. “We didn’t score enough and we weren’t effective on creating enough and converting on chances. The statistics don’t lie… we were near the bottom in both goals against and goals for and you are never going to have a chance to win a Robertson Cup when that is the case, so we had to address it in the off-season. I really like the group we put together through our tenders and draft picks,” said Beauparlant.
Kenai River will be one of four NAHL teams to kick off the season on Friday, September 11th when they host their in-state rivals, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Beauparlant said that he got the group of players in a little early this season to prepare and has liked what he has seen thus far. “Everyone is very motivated and come in with the right type of attitude, but we remain cautiously optimistic. I think it is a different feeling this year and I really like our captain’s attitudes.  They have already taken control the lockerroom and that is something that gives a solid piece of mind to the coaches. It is they important that they mirror our values and goals as an organization. We know there is an adjustment period, but with 10 returning players and solid leadership, we feel very good about where we are at this point,” said Beauparlant.
The Brown Bears are ahead of the game with 10 returning players who used last year as a learning experience. That includes a key piece in Jack Gessert, who was the leading scorer last year with 48 points, including 27 goals. Gessert will also serve as team captain for the 2015-16 season, which is something that Beauparlant is excited about.  “I think Jack is a very deserving captain and has proven to be a very effective player at this level, who has gotten better with experience and age. He defines what the NAHL is about. He works hard, he prepares, has good character and has all the tools to be an NCAA Division I hockey player. He leads by example and his teammates see that.”
Other returning forwards include Adam Kresel (8 points) and Sam Carlson (6 points), who wills serve as assistant captains, along with Evan Butcher (12 points), Nick Klishko (10 points), Joey Sardina (7 points) and Cam Cook (1 point).  Returning defensemen include Jack Nickels, Jeff Solow and Jason Lem. “I am looking forward to having all of these guys back because they will be in enhanced roles this season and it will be exciting to see what they can do,” said Beauparlant.
The Brown Bears will have three new goalies between the pipes to start the season, two of whom came via the NAHL ladder of development system in who Brian Baker and Nick Nast. Baker is an alumni of both the NAPHL and NA3HL, having played with the Esmark Stars in the NAPHL during the 2013-14 season and then played last season with the Pittsburgh Vengeance in the NA3HL. Nast, who is a product of the California Titans in the NAPHL, was named to the All-NAPHL 18U 3rd Team last season. “All three of our goalies hold each other accountable, but also support one another. I like that mentality because it breeds success as a team and puts aside the individual mentality,” said Beauparlant.
Beauparlant said the ultimately the goal remains to win a Robertson Cup Championship. “I think we are like the 21 other NAHL teams in wanting to win a cup, but there are small goals we want to accomplish along the way. If we don’t have a goal of winning a title, I think we are setting the bar too low. At the same time short term, we want to get back in the playoffs and compete for a division title. It will be up to the players to buy into the process and then determine how far they want to go and how bad they want it. We hopefully have put those pieces in place.”
Next up in the 22 in 22 series: Lone Star Brahmas
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