24 in 24 Series: Kenai River Brown Bears
August 27, 2016
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2016-17 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 24 in 24 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the season, including taking a look at their strengths as a team and thoughts on the league. It will also take a look back on last season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.
Kenai River Brown Bears
Head Coach: Jeff Worlton (2nd year)
2015-16 record: 4-51-5, 13 pts. (6th in the Midwest Division)
2015-16 leading scorer: Joey Sardina (29 points)
2016 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2016-17 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 21st vs. Minot Minotauros
Home opener: Friday, September 30th vs. New Jersey Titans
While the team learned a lot and went through an extraordinary amount of player movement to try and find the right pieces, last season for the Kenai River Brown Bears was a very difficult one as the team managed to win just four games during the regular season and finish with 13 points. On January 12, 2016 after the team had just two wins in the first 34 games, the club parted ways with head coach Geoff Beauparlant and brought in then NA3HL Breezy Point North Stars head coach Jeff Worlton to finish the season.
“We took a long look at what we needed to do for our fans, supporters and sponsors,” General Manager Nate Kiel said abiout the change. “We needed to try and find a new energy, a fresh start and a new attitude. Our remained the same when we brought Jeff in — to find the best student-athletes and build upon what we’ve been able to do in the organization’s first nine years.”
Wolton had been coaching the Breezy Point North Stars in the NA3HL the first half of the 2015-16 season before Kenai River called. He also had head coaching experience with the Flint Jr. Generals in the NA3HL and was an assistant with the Corpus Christi IceRays in the NAHL. “Last year was a tough situation for the Brown Bears, but we had tremendous and consistent fan support despite the outcome and we want to put a product on the ice this year that they can be proud of and will reward that continued loyalty,” said Worlton.
The Brown Bears really had to go back to the drawing board, which not only included the on-ice performance, but also the team’s NCAA commitments. Last season the team had just two commitments. “My staff worked hard in the off-season to identify the type of players we wanted in here and we parted ways with those that we felt were no longer the right fit for our team,” said Worlton. “I pride myself on work ethic and being willing to sit in rinks to meet the right people to help me find the right players. I have a high attention to detail on the ice and in practice and instill in players a sense of confidence.
Worlton continued… “We aren’t going to get pushed around. Win or lose, the players need to always play hard. I try to teach life lessons and let the players know I care about them. That’s why I’m able to get the best out of them.”
The Brown Bears will have to improve in a variety of areas. Last season, they had the lowest ranked power play and penalty kill. This was thanks in large part to the fact they led the NAHL in minor penalties last season and ranked 2nd overall in penalty minutes. They also ranked dead last in goals for per game (1.82) and goals against per game (4.87). They are also going to have to get more consistent in the player department as a total of 53 different players played in a Brown Bears regular season game last season.
The Brown Bears will open the season later than they traditionally have the past few seasons, as their first four games will be at the Showcase against Minot, Brookings, Shreveport and the Minnesota Wilderness. “I think we really have to take advantage of the opportunity the NAHL Showcase. It comes at a great time of year when everyone has a clean slate and it provides the players countless chances to perform in front of a wide array of scouts,” said Worton.
“I think we have to start with winning more games, but I like our talent that we have to start the season this year,” said Worlton. “We have to play fast and work harder than the other teams. We have very tough opponents in the Midwest Division, which includes our state rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs, so we have to develop a winning culture. 20 wins in the past two seasons is not up to the standard we want to set for ourselves, nor is the eight commitments the past two years. We have to set our standards and our expectations higher and hopefully this season we can take strides in the right direction.”
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Lone Star Brahmas