The Kenai River Brown Bears, winners of nine of their last 10 and tied for first in the Midwest Division, are going so good right now that good news is rolling in even on weeks without games.
The Bears, of the Tier II North American Hockey League, learned Wednesday that defenseman Jake Bushey, 20, is being called up to the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints of the Tier I United States Hockey League.
“This is a great opportunity for Jake and his career,” Kenai River coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “This is also a great opportunity for us to be able to help a team out and prove our quality as a hockey program.”
Bushey is being brought in to replace Dylan Chanter, an 18-year-old Fighting Saints defenseman.
On Saturday, Chanter fell backward and hit his bare head on the ice at the end of a second-period fight with Corey Petrash of the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) RoughRiders. Chanter had convulsions for two minutes as trainers attended to him, removing him from the ice on a stretcher.
He was hospitalized and released Saturday night. The rest of the game between the Fighting Saints and RoughRiders was postponed. The incident also has reignited the debate about fighting in hockey, particularly at the junior level.
Beauparlant said the Bears will trade Bushey to the Fighting Saints today. Currently, the expectation is the Saints will trade Bushey back to the Bears in two or three weeks when Chanter has made a full recovery.
“You never know,” Beauparlant said. “We talked about taking the opportunity. That’s what we are here for as an organization, to be able to provide those types of opportunities to move to a higher level, whether it is the USHL or collegiate hockey.”
This is not the first interaction between the Saints and Bears. Oliver David was Kenai River’s head coach for four years before leaving to be a Dubuque assistant this summer.
Beauparlant said the Bushey move was about more than the David connection, though.
“From what we understand, they’ve obviously been tracking our team because of the connection with Oliver, but also because we have a lot of good, young talent that’s getting noticed at the collegiate level and in the USHL,” the coach said.
Bushey will join 2012-13 Brown Bears player Alex Jackstadt in the USHL. Jackstadt is a forward for the Fargo (N.D.) Force.
Beauparlant said the players applauded in the locker room when told of the move.
“That’s how close we are,” the coach said. “They are working for each other.”
Bushey was the 12th overall selection by the Bears in the 2012 NAHL draft. Last season, he had six goals and 11 assists in 54 games and was a minus-11.
This season, Bushey’s year of experience is showing. He has two goals and seven assists in just 12 games and is a plus-2. Saturday, he scored with just 1:13 remaining in the third period to tie the game in an eventual overtime win against the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays.
Beauparlant said that if Bushey returns, playing in the USHL for a few weeks will only make him better.
“Hopefully, this will be a lot of fun for him,” the coach said. “He can bring some experiences back to our club to share with the guys and make our club better.”
Defenseman Gustav Berglund will come off of injured reserve for the Bears on Friday. Because Bushey is off the roster, no cuts will have to be made. The Bears’ next game is Oct. 25 in Wenatchee, Wash.
As for the debate started due to the Chanter injury, Beauparlant said USA Hockey and the junior leagues continue to take steps to improve player safety.
Skip Prince, the commissioner of the USHL, has announced he is convening a special meeting of the USHL competition committee to see if the league is being too tolerant of fighting.
In the NAHL, removing one’s own helmet or an opponent’s helmet during a fight comes with a suspension. A second fight during a stoppage also comes with a suspension. Players who rack up high numbers of fights also face increasing suspensions.
“They’re really trying to curb it, but I still believe it has a place in the game, like when it gets emotional and two guys are battling in the corner and they want to go,” Beauparlant said. “They’ve done a good job of eliminating the fight where two guys take their helmets off and prance on the ice for 10 or 15 seconds before they fight. To me, that’s embarassing, anyway.
“If two guys are going to go because things get so heated, then they can go. But staged fighting and premeditated fighting has no place in the game.”