As the Kenai River Brown Bears stand on the cusp of a playoff position, there are a few veteran players on the team who are also nearly at the end of their time on the team.
Brett Lubanski, Jesse Ramsey and Raymond Stenehjem all have played with the Brown Bears for three years — and have each made the most of their opportunities.
“The biggest change here has been the mind-set of the guys as a whole,” Lubanski, the team captain, said.
Because of the age limits for junior hockey, all three players will age out of the eligibility requirements set by USA Hockey. All three are 20 years old, and the age limitations are set for age 20.
“My first year here, we were a little unsure of ourselves,” Lubanski said. “We hadn’t experienced much success, and as the last three years went on, we’ve achieved a little success, gotten a taste of it, and now we can be a team with a winning record.”
In his time on the team, Lubanski has racked up a franchise-record 156 total points, which includes 36 goals and 120 assists. He has committed to Holy Cross.
Ramsey, who was traded from the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild his first season in the North American Hockey League, says during the last three seasons, the team has made significant improvements, and attributed credit to Kenai’s head coach, Oliver David.
“I give a lot of credit to Oliver for bringing us in and coaching us,” Ramsey said. “He really tries to teach us lessons rather than winning any certain game, he’s looking out for our futures and trying to help us be successful in that.
“He’s really personable, and he’s not a strict coach that you’re scared to talk to, so we all respect him.”
Ramsey is committed with the Air Force to play hockey next season, and will leave Kenai with 75 totals points thus far, 57 of those assists.
If Kenai makes the playoffs Saturday, it will be the fourth consecutive year the team has done so, but only the second year the Bears have had to earn their way in, as the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons were automatic bids due to there being only four teams in the West division.
Raymond Stenehjem has been a defensive player for Kenai that has accumulated 50 points in his career with the team (13 goals, 37 assists) and pointed to team chemistry as a big factor to the improvement of the team.
“It’s been a key factor for the team that we stay close together,” he said. “We’ve spent almost every day together for the last two seasons, and that helps a lot, because with a small town, there’s not a lot to do, and so that brings us together. It’s easier to focus on a common goal when you’re with the same people every day.”
With a 29-25-4 record this season, the Brown Bears have improved from years past by setting a franchise record for wins, and Stenehjem also mentioned an attitude change that came about from the team chemistry that resulted in increased success.
“The overall attitude is a big change, because there’s some key veterans coming back from last year, and that helps, because we’re used to it,” Stenehjem said. “After a long time, you kind of get past the nerves of knowing it’s faster than what you were playing before, so you get in the mind-set of this is the hockey our team can play, and we know we can do it.”
The three players are the only three of the 10 total that will be aging out after this year that have been with the team all three of their eligible years, so they know what it will take to continue the team’s current run of success.
“Going into the season, we had some goals, and one of them was to finish better than last year,” Lubanski said. “We’ve been able to do that, but Oliver told us that with how competitive our division is, we need to keep focused, because last year we had an easier time making the playoffs and this year we’re still battling for that spot.”