Sean Muller and Bubby Murphy added themselves to a list of Kenai River Brown Bears players that have committed to college, raising this year’s number of commitments to nine.
Murphy, who will turn 21 on June 4, committed to Division I University of Alaska Anchorage this week. Muller, 21, committed to Division III University of Wisconsin-River Falls on May 10.
Murphy, who will walk on at UAA, brings the number of Division I commitments off this year’s team to five, with several asterisks. Alumni Mathias Dahlstrom is one of those commitments, and goalie Gabe Grunwald was committed to Wisconsin long before he joined the Bears at the end of the year.
The other Division I commitments are Brett Lubanski to Holy Cross and Jesse Ramsey to Air Force Academy.
Muller and Murphy were part of a group of Anchorage players who came to the central Kenai Peninsula and helped turn around the Brown Bears.
Muller and Murphy arrived for the 2010-11 season along with Anchorage’s Matt Thompson. Muller had 40 points that season, while Thompson and Murphy had 30 apiece, as the Bears improved from 12-40-6 in 2009-10 to 27-24-7 in 2010-11.
Anchorage’s Raymond Stenehjem, who arrived at the end of the 2009-10 season, also was part of that turnaround with 23 points from his defenseman’s position in 2010-11.
This season, Thompson had 36 points, Muller had 35 points, Murphy had 29 points and Stenehjem had 26 points as the Bears improved to 31-25-4.
Brown Bears coach Oliver David said Thompson and Stenehjem are the only aged-out players from this year’s team that have not committed to a college. David said he is working hard to find the two a college spot.
Murphy said he had Division III offers, but he wanted to follow his dream and play Division I hockey, even if it meant walking on.
Murphy, a 2009 Dimond graduate, said he has talked to coach Dave Shyiak and has been told it will be extremely tough to crack the lineup.
“It shows how strong someone is — taking the hard way out rather than the easy way out,” Murphy said. “I like challenge. I feel like I can accomplish a lot playing for UAA and working hard to crack the lineup.”
Murphy, who is 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, credits the Brown Bears organization and David with getting him this far.
“It was one of the best decisions of my life to go there,” he said.
Murphy said he was immature when he came to the area, and the Bears program allowed him to grow up. He also said he appreciates the way David sticks with players and develops them, rather than reshaping the roster with each three-game losing streak.
“It’s not always about stats and talent,” David said. “It’s also about brain, heart, guts, how much you are willing to work to make something a reality. He did this with his mind, his passion and his heart.”
Murphy said David adds things some organizations don’t, like a library session from 9 to 11 a.m. every day, that will help him when he gets to college.
“It’s gonna be a huge, huge difference, but I’m ready for it,” Murphy said. “I’m actually excited. I don’t think I’ve ever been excited for school to start before.”
Muller will join Bears teammate Chris Blessing at River Falls.
“I’m extremely, extremely excited,” Muller said. “A lot of stress got lifted off my back.”
Muller was able to overcome his 5-7, 155-pound frame with skill and tenacity.
“If you’re a guy my size, you’ve got to know you are 5-7, but act like you’re 6-3,” he said. “You’ve got to act like the toughest guy on the ice.
“You can’t just play skilled. You’ve got to be gritty and be willing to go into the corner and take hits and give hits.”
Despite his size, Muller had a whole host of Division III schools lined up for his services. Division III schools cannot give athletic scholarships.
“With his size, it’s very difficult to play Division I hockey,” David said. “‘You can’t teach reach’ is a saying that always is kind of used to talk about size.
“But he parlayed his above average skill level, grit and competitiveness into a chance to play college hockey.”
Like Murphy, Muller, a 2009 graduate of West Anchorage, said his time on the central Kenai Peninsula was invaluable.
Not only did it allow him to develop into a college hockey player, but it also allowed him to stay relatively close to his family. His mother, Kristine, and father, Brett, were able to come down for home games.
Plus, Muller is very close to his twin sister, Jenny, who has Down’s syndrome. Muller said that seeing Jenny often is important to him.
“Kenai is an unbelievable place to play,” Muller said. “I have a ton of memories with the guys and coaches. They helped me out more with life skills in general than anything else.
“Oliver and coach Kyle Bailey, both teach you a lot about life skills. I’m really glad I went there and it wasn’t just hockey.”
Both Muller and Murphy said they haven’t been shy about telling those in the Anchorage hockey community about the positive experience the Brown Bears offered.
With the Brown Bears being the closest Junior A team to Anchorage now that the Alaska Avalanche have moved, that word of mouth could help recruiting.
“I’ve had a couple text me and call me and ask how I liked Kenai, and I’ve only had good words to say about Kenai,” Muller said. “Me, Matt Thompson, Bobby Murphy, Stenehjem, we all did well. Hopefully that will bring some of the younger guys to Kenai.”
David said he knows word about the Brown Bears program is getting out in the Lower 48, but he didn’t know that word was spreading in Anchorage. He said that will help the Brown Bears in competing against the British Columbia Hockey League, which has been where a lot of the top Anchorage talent has migrated.
“We feel we know for a fact that we are a viable option for Anchorage players to develop to get to the Division I hockey ranks,” David said. “In my years, specifically the last two years, with the help of a handful of Anchorage players, we have had quite the impact on the North American hockey community.”