Kenai River Brown Bears players Sean Muller, Raymond Stenehjem and Bobby Murphy were playing for their hockey future Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at the North American Hockey League Top Prospects Tournament in Troy, Mich.
Today, the trio rejoins their teammates as the Bears resume the fight for their future.
Kenai River continues the chase for a spot in the NAHL playoffs with a two-game series against the host Alaska Avalanche of Palmer. The games today and Saturday start at 7:30 p.m.
The Top Prospects Tournament gave Muller, Stenehjem and Murphy a chance to play in front of a bevy of scouts. Bears coach Oliver David, who coached the Under-18 Selects at the tourney, said about 80 scouts watched each game.
He said 22 of 30 NHL teams had scouts there. Every Division I college had a scout there, and over 30 Division III schools attended. Scouts from the Tier I United States Hockey League also took in the event.
“This is their last kick at the can in terms of having that many people in one location, depending on our finish here,” David said of the Bears trio. “Their grades, their test scores, their whole academic profile will determine what they have coming their way.”
David purposefully selected players who have not committed to colleges and who are in their last year of eligibility for the Bears, which is why committed players like Brett Lubanski, Jesse Ramsey and Dominic Granato did not attend.
Last year, Doug Beck, Erick Ware and Chris Rial represented the Bears at the tourney. All received college offers, though Rial was not able to go to Minnesota due to financial reasons.
The West team went 0-3 at the tourney. Muller had an assist, while Stenehjem and Murphy did not record a point.
“I feel strongly about our division, but nobody really got it going,” David said.
David said the players had a long way to travel, and could have suffered from jet lag. He also said some of the other teams were able to put together lines that had some experience together, while the West players were put on the ice together for the first time.
“I know all of our players had a great experience,” David said. “They talked to different schools at various times throughout the tournament.”
David said coaching the Under-18 Selects to a 1-2 record was an eye-opening experience. All the players on the under-18 team are a regular part of NAHL lineups. David said they have as much skill and hockey knowledge as older players, adding that the young talent probably accounted for much of the attention from NHL scouts.
There were no Bears on the Under-18 Selects.
“We need to figure out a way to attract the type of kids that I was privileged to stand behind for three games,” David said.
David, Stenehjem, Muller and Murphy flew back from Michigan on Wednesday and were at practice Thursday to prepare for the games against the Avalanche.
Crunch time has arrived for the Bears. With their 23-20-2 record, they are three points out of a playoff spot. Alaska is at 28-14-3, good for second place in the West.
“Any point is huge,” David said. “A win is a spectacular thing. We can’t come out of there without getting something.”
The Avs have won four of their last six, while the Bears have lost three of four. Alaska also has had Kenai River’s number this year, taking six of eight and the last four.
“I suspect they are playing just as tenacious as ever,” David said. “I’d imagine they are playing a similar style to the one they’ve used all year.
“They are pretty confident in the way they play.”
The Bears are struggling on the power play, with their last extra-man goal having come on Feb. 2. Since then, Kenai River has went 0-for-20 over a five-game stretch.
Four of those games came against the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, who have the fourth-best penalty kill in the league.
“I think we created a lot of offense at times, including on the power play,” David said. “We can’t forget to give a little pat on the back to their guys.”
The Bears scored just six goals in four games against the Wild, with the forwards scoring three of those goals.
Wenatchee is the best defensive team in the league, with 81 goals allowed. Next in line is Janesville (Wis.) with 102 goals, while Alaska has yielded 128 goals and the Brown Bears have given up 136 goals.
Bears tender Teague
The Bears also have announced the signing of forward Tyler Teague to a tender. Teague becomes the seventh player tendered by the Bears for next season.
Teague is on the Orange County Hockey Club of the North American Prospects Hockey League that won the Midget 18U title at the California Amateur Hockey Association Tier I State Championships in mid-February.
“Our scouts from Michigan pinpointed him,” David said. “They said he was a skilled forward that could not go untendered.
“I met with him and his dad at the airport. He’s extremely excited to make a run at making the team. It’s nice to sign a kid out of the developmental league.”