Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David, who guided the team to its most successful season in club history last season, will return for the 2011-12 campaign.
David, 32, has agreed to a two-year deal, making him the first Brown Bears coach to sign a multiyear contract. He is the fourth head coach for the team, which is entering its fifth year. David is the only coach to last for more than a year.
General Manager Nate Kiel wouldn't disclose the amount, saying the nonprofit franchise offered what it believed was fair market value along with performance-based incentives.
"It will provide us with the stability and consistency that the organization needs to be able to recruit top talent and continue with our emphasis on bringing the very best student-athletes to the Peninsula," Kiel said. "He brings the character and leadership qualities that we need to head up our team. We have to have someone who personifies the qualities we want in our players, and he does that."
This is a sign of stability for the Bears, who in their first three years of existence sputtered to losing records and last-place finishes.
But in 2010-11, David's first complete season at the helm after taking over early in 2009-10, Kenai River placed fourth in the competitive North American Hockey League West Division with a record of 27-24-7.
The Bears set a franchise win mark, posted their best home record and qualified for the playoffs. They were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
David said the squad must do better in 2011-12.
"I would like to place higher than fourth place next season," he said. "That's the immediate goal."
The move also figures to help the Bears' recruiting efforts.
Kenai River drew an all-time best 72 hopefuls to its first offseason rookie camp -- it had about 50 in 2010, David said -- and it has tendered seven new players, all but binding them to the roster for 2011-12.
David made a trip last month to California -- just one of the states outside of Alaska where the Bears continue to expand their presence.
Kiel said the Bears want to attract local talent but can't depend on it to sustain a winning organization, so it's important to have a coach who is respected in and away from Alaska.
"It helps to have a winning organization, it helps to win division titles, but what these players are really looking for is to advance their careers and get to the next level -- that's what it's all about," Kiel said. "When you have a coach who has proven he is dedicated to that end, I think that's what makes it appealing to players."
In addition to the seven tendered players, 14 from last year's squad are protected.
Among them are Soldotna product Brad Duwe, the club's second-leading all-time scorer, and captain Brett Lubanski, who was Kenai River's assists leader a year ago.
Chief among those who won't return is goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom, who signed with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League.
Dahlstrom split time with Josh Benton, whose future is uncertain, but emerged as the No. 1 goalie late in the season, making 39 appearances and starting two of the three playoff games.
"That's a big hit for us," David said. "We're on the hunt for a goalie who is as competitive as he was."
The NAHL Draft is Thursday. Kenai River will make nine selections over eight rounds, including two in the first, but then must trim the roster from 30 to 23 before the regular season.
"It's a big, big, big task to find the right components," David said, crediting Charlie Hay, Vince Redford and Nick Shackford for helping assemble the 2011-12 roster. "Building a hockey team is quite the maze. It's finding those kids who want to be here, it's competing for something, it's making an upgrade."