23 in 23 Series: Kenai River Brown Bears
August 28, 2017
The 23 in 23 series features a look at all 23 teams in the NAHL for the 2017-18 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season. 23 in 23 looks into each NAHL team and will include video interviews with 23 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: Josh Petrich (1st year)
2016-17 record: 12-46-2, 26 pts. (6th in the Midwest Division)
2016-17 leading scorer: Jonathan Marzec (38 points)
2017 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2017-18 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 20th vs. Janesville Jets
Home opener: Friday, October 20th vs. Shreveport Mudbugs
For the third straight season, the Kenai River Brown Bears missed out on the playoffs in 2016-17. Despite the playoff vacancy, the Brown Bears did win 12 games last season, which was eight more than the season before. Five players made NCAA commitments during the season, but the off-season was going to be met with change and adversity.
In late April, the Brown Bears parted ways with head coach Jeff Worlton. In two seasons with the Bears, Worlton amassed a record of 14-66-5-1, taking over during the second half of the 2015-16 season. Right around the same time came the announcement that the Brown Bears were going to remain in Kenai River for another season. The Brown Bears had previously announced in late February that the team would cease operations following the 2016-17 season, but members of the community took it upon themselves to bring the team back by raising more than $300,000 in commitments.
So, with the team back for another season and now in the need for a new head coach, the club looked to a familiar NAHL face to lead the team moving forward in former Minnesota Wilderness assistant coach Josh Petrich. He spent three seasons with the Wilderness in the NAHL from 2013-16. During that time, the Wilderness had over thirty players commit to NCAA Division I teams, one NHL draft pick and one alumni sign a NHL contract. Petrich was also part of the staff that won the 2015 Robertson Cup Championship. Petrich is also no stranger to hockey in Alaska. He took his first full-time coaching role with the Alaska Avalanche of the NAHL in 2011-2012.
“I am excited for this new journey with the Kenai River Brown Bears as a head coach, because it is a program that has a established tradition and has seen a whole new level of support from the Kenai Peninsula community. I am excited to get to work on building a successful team culture to go with the great tradition that is already in place,” said Petrich. “The success of the team in 2017-18 is going to start with redefining our culture. We have to build it through success and good habits every day. We want the Kenai River Brown Bears to be known as a place players can come to develop and achieve their goals, while having a positive impact on the whole community, both on and off the ice.”
As a former goalie, Petrich said that constructing a team for the 2017-18 season, who is going to be able to make it back to the Robertson Cup Playoffs, starts between the pipes. “I wanted to start from the net out and we have Colt Hanks coming back, along with two other goalies to compete with him, so I think that sets a solid foundation in goal.” Hanks, a former NAPHL goaltender, put up some good numbers in tough circumstances last year. He began the season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights and finished with the Brown Bears, keeping his save percentage right around the 90% mark.
After that, Petrich said it is about finding the right kind of leadership to achieve the team’s goals. “First and foremost, it is about developing more players to get an NCAA commitment, particularly Division I commitments. I think if those commitments come, then the wins follow and hopefully we can win enough games to get back to the Robertson Cup Playoffs.” Petrich singled out the leading goal-scorer from last season, Luke Radetic, as someone who will be expected to lead and put up numbers. He also mentioned Kenai River’s first pick in the 2017 Draft, Nic Griebenow, as someone who he is excited to see play and who can contribute.
“We want to have a team-first mentality. The community has made a big investment in us and it is time to return the favor. I think our team is excited about it because I think we are going to see some bigger crowds and more community support,” said Petrich. “Coming here as an assistant coach was always and fun trip and so now to have to opportunity to be a head coach in the NAHL in one the best communities, is an opportunity I want me and the team to take full advantage of.”
Next up in the 23 in 23 series: Lone Star Brahmas