In his three years with the Kenai River Brown Bears, Anchorage’s Conor Deal became known for his commitment to hockey and fitness.
Deal plans on picking up right where he left off at Gustavus Adolphus College, a Division III school in St. Peter, Minnesota. Deal announced his commitment to the Gusties on Tuesday.
“Right after the season, my mom and I took a trip to Minnesota to tour some of the Division III schools,” said Deal, the son of Tim and Denise. “When I toured Gustavus, I fell in love with the place right when I got there.
“The rink is right on campus and I liked the student life. I’m excited now that I committed.”
Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said that Deal took a little extra time to make sure he was making the right decision.
“I commend him for doing that,” Beauparlant said. “That shows he mature. It’s a very big life decision and he made the best one for him.”
Deal was a noted physical fitness nut while with the Brown Bears, and not surprisingly a cellphone call Tuesday found him scaling Mount Marathon in Seward in preparation for the famed July 4 race.
Deal plans to make fitness his career, and will study something like physical therapy or sports nutrition in college.
Beauparlant said having a fitness leader like Deal on the team rubs off on other players. Deal has Alec Butcher, a former Bears forward from Anchorage, running mountains this summer.
“At our Anchorage camp, Alec said he has been running mountains with Conor,” Beauparlant said. “(Deal) takes off-ice training seriously.”
He will join a team that has been to the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship game in four of the past five seasons. Coach Brett Petersen has a 182-141-28 overall record in 13 seasons at the school.
“It’s a very competitive program,” said Deal, who had Rick Van Hatten, and Carmen and Chris Stephl, as host parents. “I really wanted to go to a situation where the program was competitive right off the bat, and Gustavus was the right fit.”
Deal played three seasons for the Brown Bears, getting 20 points last season, 18 points in 2012-13 and five points in 2011-12.
But Beauparlant said Deal’s impact can’t be measured with points.
“The two biggest areas that Conor excels in is in the faceoff circle winning faceoffs, and the second is on the penalty kill with his willingness to block shots,” Beauparlant said. “His defensive game is strong. He’s a guy you can rely on in the last minute to close out a game.
“He’s also willing to go to the tough areas. At the college level, that is even more important than it is at our level.”
Deal said the Gusties lost four forwards, so he is looking forward to the opportunity to come in and compete right away.
Deal said he will room with former Brown Bears teammate Jake Bushey, who played with Deal for the Bears for a season and a half before getting traded to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
“The Brown Bears developed me as a player but also as a person,” Deal said. “It was a great experience walking around town where people knew your first name, and having little kids ask you for your autograph.
“Coach Bo and coach Oliver (David) did well getting us out in the community and working on our character on and off the ice.”
Bears notes: Forwards Nathan Colwell and Zack Zulkanycz, a Kenai Central product, have made the training camp roster for the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints of the Tier I United States Hockey League.
Beauparlant said he has heard there will be 30 or 35 at the training camp, a number that will eventually be cut down to 23.
“We’re very proud of each of them making it as far as they have,” Beauparlant said. “We know they will represent the organization well.”