Kenai River Brown Bears forward Sebastian Fuchs, 17, has verbally committed to the University of Denver.
“Denver hockeywise and collegewise sounded perfect,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs’ commitment, announced Monday, stands out for the Bears organization due to Fuchs’ age and the pedigree of the Pioneers’ program.
Fuchs becomes the youngest Brown Bears player to commit to a Division I program. Last season, Albin Karlsson, who like Fuchs is from the Stockholm area in Sweden, committed to Niagara University at the age of 18.
The University of Denver has won seven NCAA championships, tying the Pioneers for second on the all-time list. Denver’s last title came in 2005.
The standards at Denver are high. After last season, head coach George Gwozdecky lost his job after 19 seasons.
Gwozdecky won two national championships at Denver and had the Pioneers as the only Division I hockey team to win 20 games in the last 12 seasons, but Denver had lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney in five of the past six years.
“They have a proud tradition,” Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said of the Pioneers. “We’re very happy and excited for Sebastian and his family, for our organization and for the University of Denver.
“They are getting a quality person and an extremely talented young hockey player.”
When the West Division of the North American Hockey League did not have enough teams, the Bears switched to the Midwest Division this year.
While the change meant more travel for the team, it also meant the Bears players would get more scouting exposure by visiting the Midwest.
Beauparlant said the new travel arrangement worked out for Fuchs. The coach said Fuchs got Denver’s interest at the early season NAHL Showcase in Minnesota. On Nov. 1, the Bears returned to Minnesota to face the Austin Bruins and Fuchs was offered the Denver scholarship on the way home from that trip.
Fuchs said there were other schools interested in him, but Denver sounded like the best option.
“Most college scouts say that it is good seeing us down playing different teams,” Beauparlant said. “Most schools can’t make it up here, unless they are playing UAA or UAF.
“Most schools say it is good to see how the players are progressing throughout the year.”
Fuchs, listed at 5-foot-10, 175, has six goals and nine assists for the Bears in 18 games.
“The biggest thing is his ice awareness and vision with and without the puck,” Beauparlant said.
Fuchs, the son of Anna and Mikeal Fuchs and the billet son of Art and Lori Karvonen, continues a successful relationship between the Bears and Scandinavian Hockey Consulting.
That group was founded in 2009 to help European players transition to the American junior and college ranks.
Karlsson, the only other player on the Bears roster with a Division I commitment, also came from Scandinavian Hockey Consulting.
“It shows the trust they have in this organization to get these players where they want to go,” Beauparlant said.
The college commitment is the reward Fuchs received for deciding to leave his home country at such an early age.
“I just tried to play hockey my best, and let the schools come to me when they liked me,” Fuchs said. “For now, I just want to keep trying to do my best for Kenai.”
Beauparlant also said it is nice to see a program like Denver place trust in the Bears organization. Fuchs can’t go to the Pioneers until the 2015-16 season at the earliest, but he could go play for the higher-level United States Hockey League next season.
“It’s a great challenge for us to make sure he is ready, whether he remains with this organization or moves on to the USHL,” Beauparlant said.