Under the 2013-14 schedule released by the North American Hockey League on Tuesday, new Kenai River Brown Bears coach Geoff Beauparlant will have a chance to catch up with his old friends in Fairbanks early and often.
Beauparlant was named the new bench boss of the Bears last week after three years as an assistant coach in Fairbanks.
The Bears will face the Ice Dogs 16 times this season — the most they will face any opponent. The rivalry begins anew Sept. 13 and 14, when the Ice Dogs travel to the Soldotna Sports Center for the season opener for both squads.
“Knowing coach (Trevor) Stewart and the staff, the team they always try to put together will be a great task for our team right off the hop,” Beauparlant said. “Playing a rival that early creates a buzz that should create a stir in the community.
“It’s a good bar to set early in the season.”
Nate Kiel, general manager for the Brown Bears, said he looks forward to facing the Dogs again for the Era Alaska Cup, the season battle for supremacy between Alaska’s only two junior teams.
Fairbanks won the first cup last year. The teams split 8-8, but the Dogs came out on top because two of Kenai River’s wins came in shootouts. Fairbanks then bested the Bears 3-2 in the first round of the playoffs.
Playing well against the Ice Dogs will be vital if the Bears want be one of four teams in the six-team Midwest Division to make the playoffs.
The Midwest Division schedule is very unbalanced.
Besides Fairbanks and Kenai River, the division includes the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill, the Minnesota Magicians and the Minnesota Wild.
The Bears play the Wild 12 times. Wenatchee lost in the Robertson Cup finals last year and is led by head coach Bliss Littler, who has the most wins in U.S. junior hockey history.
Coulee Region finished 16-39-5 last season, while the Minnesota squads are expansion teams. But the Bears play the Wilderness five times, the Chill four times and the Magicians four times.
Beauparlant said a lot should not be read into the unbalanced schedule.
“It should be exciting to come and watch,” he said. “As small as the league has become, every team is a quality team with quality coaches and players trying to reach their dream of playing in college.”
Other teams on the Bears’ home slate are Corpus Christi and Wichita Falls, both from Texas and the always-tough South Division.
The Austin (Minn.) Bruins and Minot (S.D.) Minotauros also come for two games apiece. Austin won the Central Divison last season, while Minot was fourth.
Another highlight of the schedule is facing 2013 Robertson Cup champ Amarillo and 2012 Robertson Cup champ Texas Tornado at the NAHL Showcase.
Kiel said the schedule has its pluses and minuses, but overall he is pleased.
“It was a long, complicated process this year, more complicated than in many years,” Kiel said. “All things considered, I’m pleased with what we have.”
As usual, Kiel said all the travel creates financial concerns for the Bears. In addition to having to pay to travel to the Lower 48, the Bears also must subsidize out-of-division teams and the Chill, Wilderness and Magicians to come to Alaska.
“That has a definite impact on our budget and makes it more challenging for us,” Kiel said.
But the GM is happy 24 of the 28 home dates are on Friday and Saturday — the two nights when attendance is the greatest.
Kiel said having an early home opener on Sept. 13 is tough, but he said that the team will have a series under its belt before the Showcase, which is one of the best opportunities players have in front of scouts.
The GM also said the team will have to fly back and forth from the Lower 48 four times, which is the same as last season and is a reasonable amount.
Murphy named assistant coach
Kiel also announced the hiring of assistant coach Steve Murphy on Tuesday.
Murphy had been a national scout for the Bears. He is the brother of former Bears player and current UAA player Bobby Murphy.
Steve Murphy played both junior and college hockey.
Beauparlant said he met Murphy several years ago.
“He’s a guy that is very eager, a quick study and a hard worker. Those are huge attributes for an assistant coach — a guy who is willing to put in the hours and time,” he said.
Kiel said another benefit of having Murphy on-board is that Murphy is from Anchorage and has contacts in that hockey hotbed.
Bears move Vance, Lindstrom in trades
Kiel also announced a few player trades Tuesday.
Carson Vance, a defenseman who played for the Bears last season, has been traded to the Janesville (Wis.) Jets for a 2013 tender and second-round pick.
Vance also was drafted by the Youngstown (Ohio) Phantoms of the United States Hockey League in the 13th round.
“He wanted to be a little closer to home and not play in Alaska, so we moved him to Janesville,” Kiel said.
Thomas Lindstrom, the Bears’ 2013 first-round pick, also did not want to play in Alaska so the Bears traded him to the Minnesota Wilderness for a 2013 tender and future considerations.
“There’s a good chance he’ll be in a Wilderness uniform competing against the Bears,” Kiel said.
Oldham selected for Under-17 Selects
Goaltender Kris Oldham of Anchorage was selected Tuesday for the U.S. Under-17 Select Team that will compete in the 2013 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament from Aug. 14 to 18 in Trnava, Slovakia.
Oldham, who just turned 16 in June, played in one game for the Bears last season — a 7-5 victory over the Wild. That made him the youngest player to suit up in the NAHL last season.
Last season, Oldham also played for East High and the Alaska Junior Aces Under-16 team. The Bears have him tendered for this season.
He is the only player with NAHL experience on the U.S. team.
“This shows he is amongst a handful of the best goalies in the country amongst 16-year-olds,” Kiel said.
Beauparlant said he talked to Oldham on Monday. According to Beauparlant, Oldham said his first choice is to spend the 2013-14 season at Kenai River.
“Kris is a very mature man with a great presence off the ice,” Beauparlant said. “I’m excited to see how he plays.
“His chances are just as good as any other goalie. If I bring in 12 goalies, each has a one in 12 chance of making the hockey club. I feel he has the ability to make the team, but he has to show it at camp.”
Jackstadt makes 30-man roster of Fargo Force
Alex Jackstadt, who was second on the team in scoring during the 2012-13 regular season, has made the 30-man roster of the Fargo (N.D.) Force of the USHL, Beauparlant said.
That means Jackstadt is on the team’s protected list the rest of the summer. The Force must cut down to 23 by Oct. 1.
“His intention is to try out to make the Fargo Force,” Beauparlant said. “He will also be at our main camp, in case things don’t work out with the USHL.
“We wish him nothing but the best of success.”
Beauparlant added that 2013 draft picks Ryan McMurphy and Frankie Spellman are the only other potential Brown Bears players on the 30-player lists of USHL squads.