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24 in 24: Kenai River Brown Bears

August 28, 2018
The 24 in 24 series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2018-19 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 24 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 (2nd Year)
2017-18 record: 18-38-4, 40 pts. (6th in the Midwest Division)
2017-18 leading scorer: Gil Garcia (42 pts.)
2018 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2018-19 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Friday, September 14th @ Janesville Jets
Home opener: Friday, October 5th vs. Chippewa Steel
 
While the Kenai River Brown Bears did miss the playoffs for a fourth straight season in 2017-18, the team showed remarkable improvement with the support of a re-energized community. Under rookie head coach Josh Petrich, the Brown Bears held their own in the always-tough Midwest Division and made an improvement of six more wins and 14 more points from the season prior. 
 
The way that the Brown Bears finished the season played a big role in their positive outlook towards this season. A prime example was their results against their closest rival, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. The Ice Dogs finished with the league’s top record at 45-8-7, yet the Brown Bears were able to close the season by taking seven of a possible eight points in four games against Fairbanks. In all, Kenai River put two losses and three overtime losses on the Ice Dogs’ record in 12 games. It was a big step for the Brown Bears who look to continue the upward trend in 2018-19. 
 
“I think the culture was broken and shattered coming into last season and the way we turned things around during the 2017-18 season was pretty impressive. I think the players and fans agree with that. We instilled a style of play that is fast-paced, in-your-face, aggressive hockey,” said Petrich. “We have a lot of community support right now, maybe the most we have had in team history, so success is important for everyone.”
 
Part of the growth of the Brown Bears heading into the 2018-19 season is that they will have a very solid and plentiful core group of veteran players. Not only that, but they will be veteran players who played key roles and got some valuable experience last season. “Our returners are all guys who put up some points last season and played in some key situations and earned experience. I think that is the big difference compared to last year. Last year, our returners were mostly depth guys, but this year our returners are guys who made significant impacts last season, which sets them up to be big time contributors this season,” said Petrich.
 
Watch: Josh Petrich video interview
 
Petrich has already named defenseman Preston Weeks, a local native of Soldotna, Alaska, and forward Michael Spethmann, of St. Cloud, Minnesota, as co-captains. Weeks will wear the “C” at home, while Spethmann gets the honor on the road. “I like the core of players coming back and more importantly, they are eager to play in Kenai. I think we took some great strides last year and we are trying to continue to build that culture of being a place that players want to come to and develop,” said Petrich. “We went out and recruited a lot of guys with leadership qualities, who have been captains before on their previous teams. I think we are twice as competitive in training camp as we were last year. There are going to be some really tough decisions to be made in order to get to a 25-man roster.”
 
Some of the key players returning to the line besides the two captains include defenseman Markuss Komuls. The native of Latvia had 35 points last season for the Brown Bears and was the NAHL’s Defenseman of the Month in January of 2018. Other key returning players to the line-up include forwards Sacha Guillemain (29 pts.), Zach Krajnik (26 pts.), Filip Karlsson (25 pts.), Luke Millen (24 pts.), and Sutton McDonald (10 pts.). In goal, the Brown Bears will return both Gavin Enright and Kevin Lake. However, the team has brought in newcomer goaltender Dennis Westergard from Sweden, who Petrich has been impressed with thus far.
 
“We wanted to add to the character and compete-level that we already had. We want players that want to be in Kenai. Our scouting staff has done a really good job at identifying some players that are hopefully going to get us to the next level,” said Petrich. “I think the first step for us is getting back to the playoffs. It would be a huge step for our program and continue the momentum that we have built up in recent years. We are also eager to improve our NCAA development and advancement. I think most importantly it is a goal that is shared by everyone involved with NAHL teams, from the owners, to the coaches, to the players. We not only want to have more wins and make the playoffs, but also want to see a rise in our commitments.”
 
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Lone Star Brahmas
 
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