Community effort saves Brown Bears

Congratulations to the Kenai River Brown Bears, and kudos to the community that supports them; thanks to their efforts, the team will be back on the ice for the 2017-18 season.

Now comes the hard part — keeping the enthusiasm generated during the effort to save the Brown Bears going through the highs and lows of a junior hockey season.

Since the Brown Bears, members of the North American Hockey League, announced in late February that the team would cease operations following the season, mostly due to financial issues, members of the community have taken it upon themselves to bring the team back.

Raising $300,000 in commitments to next year’s team in just 25 days has been a remarkable endeavor, particularly at a time when businesses and individuals are feeling an economic pinch.

And the Brown Bears are an organization worth saving. Providing high level hockey throughout the winter is just a part of what the team has done for the community. Players frequently spend time volunteering in a wide range of capacities, and the organization has been recognized for its community service.

Support for the Brown Bears has come from a broad swath of the community, from fans buying season tickets, to support from business owners — even the arch-rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs contributed to the effort.

With the immediate hurdle cleared, the Brown Bears organizations and its boosters can now start to plan for the long haul. The potential for new teams in Anchorage of the Mat-Su certainly helps the Brown Bears’ prospects, running a junior hockey team in Alaska is an expensive proposition, particularly with the rest of the league moving eastward and teams here expected to pick up the tab for visitors’ travel. Much has been done, but there is still much to do.

We hope the community’s enthusiasm for the team, which was exhibited by the fans who packed the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for the squad’s final home games of the season, continues into next season and beyond. As we noted, the Brown Bears have been more than just a hockey team over the past decade — they’ve been part of the community. We’re glad to see our community reciprocate; that kind buy-in is essential to any organization’s success.

And we’re also looking forward to seeing the Brown Bears back on the ice when the puck drops on the 2017-18 season next fall.

Game on!

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