Former Kenai River Brown Bears defenseman Joe Blake, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder acquired midway through the 2010-11 season, has signed with St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn.
Blake's first season begins in October.
"It's awesome," said Blake, 20, who nearly signed with the University of Massachusetts Boston before his spot was filled by someone else. "I was kind of freaking out because I didn't know if I was going to be playing hockey next season in college. It was a huge relief to know I had somewhere to go."
St. Olaf belongs to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and is coached by Sean Goldsworth, who is 136-16-39 in 14 seasons.
Blake, who has a friend on the team, isn't sure how much playing time he will receive as a freshman.
From what he's heard about Goldsworth, however, time on the ice is given to those who earn it.
"He is very fair and expects guys to work," Blake said. "What he expects is if you put in the work, and if you are good, he will put you in the lineup."
Blake appeared in 24 games with the Brown Bears after he was acquired from the North American Hockey League champion Fairbanks Ice Dogs halfway through the 2010-11 campaign.
Kenai River coach Oliver David expects every outgoing Brown Bear - the league's age limit is 20 - to sign with a college. Chris Rial committed to the University of Minnesota but was forced to withdraw because of financial issues. David is working to find Rial another destination.
The only other 20-year-old who has yet to sign is Erick Ware, but David said Ware should soon find a home.
"It's an impressive feat to get all the guys into college," David said. "We're batting 1.000 - with those other two guys pending."
David and his staff will attend an invite-only training camp July 22 to 25 in Minnesota. The camp is the biggest of the summer, David said, and will determine the roster for 2011-12.
Only players issued an invitation will participate in the round-robin event, in which five squads play four games as cuts are made.
"Our entire team will be picked from this camp," David said. "We might make trades and things might happen in the summer or after camp - a couple kids might come to Alaska and get cut or want a different experience - but we leave this camp with the makeup of our team."
Kenai River opens the 2011-12 season at home Sept. 9 against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, the defending league champions.
David said it's the first time in franchise history the squad has opened on home ice. The 60-game schedule includes four nonleague contests, running from September to March 31.
The Bears remain in the NAHL West Division, which includes Fairbanks, the Wenatchee (wash.) Wild, Fresno (Calif.) Monsters, Dawson Creek (British Columbia) Rage and the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer.
The third-annual Stanley Ford Brown Bear Celebrity Golf Classic is Friday at the Kenai Course.
Among those who will attend is Tony Granato, a former National Hockey League star and current assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Scott Burt, captain of the Alaska Aces, also will participate, said Kenai River General Manager Nate Kiel.
Burt is bringing the Kelly Cup to Kenai and the public will have a chance to take photos and receive autographs from Burt and a few teammates at 2 p.m. Friday at the golf course.
Those who play in the tournament receive a free pass to Summer Festival, which is 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center. The festival will feature beer, wine, food, auctions and special guests.
The golf tournament still has space. Check-in is at 8 a.m. Friday with a shotgun start at 9 a.m. For more information, visit www.kenairiverbrownbears.com.