The sale of the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer to a group based in Pennsylvania will present the Kenai River Brown Bears with a mix of challenges and opportunities, according to the Bears general manager.
“It’s going to present some challenges for us,” Nate Kiel said. “We’ll be playing more out-of-division games, and our closest instate rival will no longer exist.
“On the other hand, we’ve developed a great rivalry with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. We’ve worked very well with them in the past hosting teams in Alaska. From that perspective, we’re looking forward to a great partnership, in terms of hosting partners and travel partners.”
Kiel said the Bears will have to travel more, and that will cost more.
“It’s going to put more stress on the organization to grow our fan base and sponsorship base,” Kiel said. “We feel that with hard work, we can do that.
“We’ve had success in the past. We’ve seen numbers slowly climb in attendance, as well as our partnership with community businesses and corporations has continued to grow.”
The Brown Bears just completed their most successful season ever in terms of wins, and Kiel said the organization is poised to build on that success.
Kenai River averaged 783 fans during the regular season, the second-most in franchise history. During the 2008-09 season, the team’s second in existence, the Bears averaged 827, according to pointstreak.com.
“We are very appreciative of all the fans that turned out this year, as well as support from businesses in truly making this the central peninsula’s team,” Kiel said.
The general manager said attendance should be helped by changes in the schedule. Kiel said he does not think there will be as many Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday games with the Avs gone.
Those days — which all see decreased attendance — were common as Outside teams hit the state and wanted to play all three Alaska teams in nine days.
Brown Bears fans also will get a chance to see more of a variety of teams. Last season, only West Division teams came to the Soldotna Sports Center.
With the Avs gone and the Dawson Creek (British Columbia) having ceased operations, the only teams left in the West are Fairbanks, Wenatchee (Wash.) and Fresno (Calif.).
Kiel said he is not sure if the North American Hockey League will find another team to put in the West. He did say the Bears are up for the challenge of going against the three bigger-market teams in the West.
“They’re running substantially higher budgets, but we’re proud of the fact we’ve built a team that is a community team,” he said
“We’ve tried to do all the right things, recruiting kids for all the right reasons. Coach David has done a great job placing players in college. We have to achieve our goals by different means.”
Kenai River is now the closest Junior A franchise to all the hockey talent in Anchorage, but Kiel is not sure if this will be an advantage.
“We’ll still compete with other teams in the West, our league, and with leagues across North America for those players,” Kiel said.