The Kenai River Brown Bears will have extra time both before and after tonight’s Brown and Gold Game for fans to meet the players.
The extra time will be needed because there are so many fresh faces on this season’s roster. Of the 23 players the Bears protected Sunday, just five are returners from last season.
After last season, head coach Geoff Beauparlant was expecting to have 10 to 12 returners this season, but a number of factors decreased that number.
First and foremost was the number of players moving from the Tier II North American Hockey League to the Tier I United States Hockey League.
Sebastian Fuchs, Austin Chavez, Kris Oldham, Zack Zulkanycz, Nathan Colwell and Jack Gessert are all currently with USHL squads.
“It’s always a proud point for our organization to move players on to a higher level,” Beauparlant said.
Judd Loewenstein elected to enter college hockey with junior eligibility left, while Tommy Dierl, a very good student, will attend Texas Tech and focus on academics.
An injured back kept RJ Salvato from returning, while defenseman Christian Luiten gave up hockey due to too many concussions.
The Brown and Gold event, which costs $5, starts with a 6 p.m. meet and greet with the players, followed by a 6:30 p.m. meal of hot dogs, chips and a drink.
The team will scrimmage from 7:15 to 8:45, then there will be a skate with the Bears until 9:30.
With so much turnover, Beauparlant said the scouting department, led by Josh Romano, had to find not only good players, but players that fit the Bears’ mold.
Beauparlant said those characteristics are grit and hustle, speed to get around the Olympic-sized ice, length on defense to cover the bigger ice, and more depth on offense after 35 percent of the scoring came from three players last season.
Here is a quick look at each of the protected players. The year denotes the birth year, with 1994 being the last year of junior eligibility:
• Tyler Andrews (6-foot-2, 195 pounds, right-handed defenseman, 1994) — Andrews was a draft pick who played for the Bears last season and already has been named the team captain. He captained Dimond to the state high school crown two years ago.
“He’ll do anything for the logo and that’s what we’re looking for in our captain and leadership this year,” Beauparlant said.
• Gustav Berglund (5-11, 185, left-handed defenseman, 1994) — Has been named an assistant captain after coming to the Peninsula from Vaxjo, Sweden, last season.
“He wants to win and has a strong work ethic on and off the ice. He will complement Tyler well in the leadership group,” Beauparlant said.
• Maurin Bouvet (5-11, 175, left-handed forward, 1995) — The French player came from a trade with Corpus Christi. Will go to Hungary in December to play in the U20 Division I Group B World Championships.
“He’s going to be dynamic on offense, especially on the Olympic-sized rink. He plays a solid two-way game,” Beauparlant said.
• Evan Butcher (5-10, 170, right-handed forward, 1996) — Anchorage product is the brother of Alec Butcher, who won the NAHL MVP as a Brown Bear last season. Was tendered by the Bears.
“He brings a different offensive element than Alec. He’s a playmaking wing that also plays the middle,” Beauparlant said.
• Ben Campbell (6-1, 180, left-handed defenseman, 1994) — Came to the Bears in a trade with Fairbanks last season. Campbell will be an assistant captain.
“He has a hate-to-lose mentality,” Beauparlant said. “Coming from a successful program, you won’t find a guy that wants to win more than him.”
• Sam Carlson (6-3, 205, left-handed forward, 1995) — A free agent from Bemidji High School in Minnesota. Grew up in Eagle River and wanted to return to Alaska.
“He’s a gentle giant off the ice, but he will be a force to be reckoned with around the walls and in front of the net,” Beauparlant said.
• Collin Charyszyn (6-1, 180, right-handed defenseman, 1996) — A free agent who put all his eggs in one basket in trying to make the Bears and succeeded after playing for the Philadelphia Jr Flyers last season.
“He’s a stay-at-home, steady-Eddy guy,” Beauparlant said. “He knows his role and was very dedicated to making our hockey team.”
• Clay Cross (5-7, 170, right-handed defenseman, 1995) — After playing with the Phoenix Jr Coyotes, was drafted by Odessa and hooked up with the Bears after he was released there.
“He’s a player that had interested us earlier in the season. He’s agile and strong,” Beauparlant said.
• Manfred Ehlers (6-1, 190, left-handed winger, 1996) — Another Swedish find of Johan Skinnars, the European scout for the Bears.
“He’s a power forward that doesn’t mind contact. He takes pucks to the net and plays the game in an honest way,” Beauparlant said.
• Doc Gentzler (5-8, 165, right-handed forward, 1995) — A free agent from the LA Jr Kings.
“He’s quick on the puck and very explosive in his stride,” Beauparlant said. “Despite his size, he has edge and grit.”
• Jake Gerson (5-9, 175, right-handed forward, 1995) — Was drafted by the team in the sixth round after playing with the Colorado Rampage last season.
“He’s a workhorse whose motor doesn’t stop,” Beauparlant said. “He plays physical and competes every single day.”
• Miles Giorgione (5-10, 175, left-handed defenseman, 1996) — The free agent comes from Service High School and the Alaska Jr Aces.
“He’s a steady defenseman and physical on the back end,” Beauparlant said.
• Sean Healy (5-11, 175, goalie, 1995) — Played for the Bears in 10 games two seasons ago. Last season he led the Idaho Jr Steelheads to a runner-up finish in the Western States Hockey League.
“I wanted a second veteran guy to push Zach Quinn and create a goaltending competition and he’s done that,” Beauparlant said.
• Nick Klishko (5-11, 185, left-handed forward, 1996) — Was drafted by the Bears two years ago but wanted to finish high school in San Diego. Tendered with the Bears while playing for the LA Jr Kings last season.
“He has the potential to be a special hockey player. He protects the puck well and has elite offensive abilities,” Beauparlant said.
• Jack Nickels (6-2, 170, right-handed defenseman, 1997) — Beauparlant actually got to know the Nickels family when Nickels’ older brother was drafted when Beauparlant was an assistant with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Nickels was drafted by the Bears.
“He’s steady and solid on the back end. He’s putting in the work he has to, to improve,” Beauparlant said.
• Danny O’Donnell (6-2, 175, left-handed forward or defenseman, 1996) — The tender was brought on for his versatility.
“With the roster at 23, it’s nice to have someone who can play both positions,” Beauparlant said.
• Zach Quinn (6-1, 180, goaltender, 1994) — Joined the Bears as a free agent last season and became what Beauparlant often called a rock in the net.
“He worked to hone a few things haunting him and he is better than ever,” Beauparlant said.
• Matt Rudin (5-11, 165, right-handed forward, 1995) — Was drafted by the Bears and put up 30 points last season.
“He’s a returning guy and a leader on the front end,” Beauparlant said. “We expect him and Bouvet to help spearhead the offense.”
• Joey Sardina (5-10, 165, right-handed forward, 1996) — Stood out to the Bears in the camp process after playing last season for Texas Tornado U18.
“He’s skilled with the puck and protects the puck well,” Beauparlant said. “He’ll have a learning curve as a 96.”
• Tanner Schachle (6-1, 170, left-handed forward, 1997) — Comes from Wasilla High School and the Alaska Jr Aces. His father, Trent, coached him in high school and played for the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“There is tremendous upside with Tanner and we are excited to see where he can get to,” Beauparlant said. “It’s similar to how excited we were about Sebastian Fuchs, but he’s a different player with a big learning curve. He has a good hockey IQ and the sky is the limit.”
• Will Schwartz (6-0, 180, left-handed defenseman, 1996) — The Bears had Schwartz at open camp last season, but he elected to go back to high school in Minnesota. The Bears then tendered him early last season.
“He’s another solid defenseman that can chip in offensively when needed,” Beauparlant said. “He knows his role and has already seized the bull by the horns.”
• Logan Wendling (5-11, 175, right-handed forward, 1995) — The former West Valley player and Fairbanks Ice Dogs player spent last season with the Springfield Jr Blues, but wanted to be closer to home so the Bears traded for him.
“He brings a lot of different things and experience is the biggest one,” Beauparlant said. “He was looking for an opportunity to find the joy of the game again. He’s been a 25-point guy all three years.”
• Matt Wikman (5-11, 180, right-handed forward, 1996) — Was drafted by the Bears after getting noticed by administrative intern Paul Walker, who was then scouting for the Bears. Did not make team out of main camp, but the Bears brought him back after another player decided to finish high school. Beauparlant said he has Ivy League potential in the classroom.
“He’s the most pleasant surprise,” Beauparlant said. “In our interview after training camp, I told him I made a mistake and he proved me wrong. If he continues to do that, he has a chance to be a special player in the league.”