Just as the Los Angeles Lakers prefer to have Kobe Bryant at the free-throw line and the L.A. Galaxy look to David Beckham to bury penalty kicks, Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said he relies on Johan Skinnars to operate the power play.
And it's his success on the man advantage that's helped the Swedish-born Kenai River captain rack up 37 points -- 18 coming on the power play -- in 26 games since joining the team in late November.
"Obviously he's quarterbacking our power play, and in doing so, is able to earn even more points," David said after Wednesday's practice. "On any given night, he's getting one point to three points."
For a team that averages 2.45 goals per game, Skinnars factors in on one-third to three-quarters of the Brown Bears offensive production on most nights, David said. Out of his 26 games with the Brown Bears, Skinnars has recorded points in 23.
"He sees the ice really good," said Skinnars' linemate Jesse Ramsey. "He can definitely bury the puck."
"He's always in the spots where he should be," said Skinnars' other linemate, Brad Duwe, a Soldotna High School product.
Skinnars, Ramsey and Duwe began skating together on Dec. 18. Since then, the trio has combined for 69 points. Twenty-one of Duwe's 33 points on the year have been recorded since adding Skinnars to his line. Ramsey had just five points as a Brown Bear prior to skating with Skinnars. He now has 19.
"We've been getting a lot of points together as a line," Ramsey said. "We have good chemistry out there."
As first-year North American Hockey Leaguers, Duwe said he and Ramsey have benefited from Skinnars' experience.
"He's always trying to improve himself, which makes us better," Duwe said. "He's a good leader on the ice. He's always positive."
"Every day I try to improve myself," Skinnars said.
Duwe said his line has formed a tight bond over the past three months.
"As a line, we hang out a lot over at Duwe's house," Ramsey said.
Support from David is crucial for Skinnars' on-ice success.
"If coach gives you confidence, you can make the plays," Skinnars said.
Skinnars, 20, grew up in the small town of Sater. Having played hockey in Sweden all his life, Skinnars joined West Division foe Fairbanks last August. Skinnars said he wanted to play in a more physical league, as well as have an adventure abroad.
But on the Ice Dogs, who send up to half of their squad to NCAA Division I teams each year, Skinnars was a third liner. In 21 games, he tallied just nine points with Fairbanks.
Skinnars also skated past David's radar early in the season, but he soon started blipping on the screen of both David and Nate Kiel, general manager of the Brown Bears.
"He wasn't relied on in Fairbanks to put up numbers," David said. "Once I heard that he may be available, Nate and I both started watching him specifically when we played them."
What David saw was encouraging, and shocking.
"I couldn't figure out why he would be made available," he said. "It was very exciting."
Fairbanks' loss was Kenai River's gain. Coming over in a trade for future considerations, Skinnars made an immediate impact on the team. He recorded points in his first seven straight games with the Brown Bears.
Skinnars wasn't concerned with the location of his team, just that he continued to play.
"It's hockey. It doesn't really matter where you are," he said.
Although, the move to the Kenai Peninsula was a good one for Skinnars.
"Personally, I feel so much better playing hockey right here," he said.
Skinnars' new role as Kenai River's go-to guy is a welcome challenge.
"It's a lot of pressure," he said. "I think pressure from the coach and teammates only gets you better."
Born in 1989, Skinnars has just two regular season games left of eligibility in the NAHL. Those come against the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla tonight and Saturday at Wasilla. The puck drops both nights at 7 p.m.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is undecided where his hockey career will take him once this season concludes. Skinnars said he may return to Europe to play pro hockey or pursue playing college hockey in the U.S.
Though finding the back of the net is rewarding, notching a victory trumps scoring any day for Skinnars.
"It's all about winning," he said. "It doesn't really matter if you put up points."
To say Skinnars exceeded the organization's expectations is an understatement, David said. There was no way to predict Skinnars would be such a consistent offensive weapon, he said.
"He's definitely brought a lot of offensive power to the team, which we needed," Ramsey said.
"Johan, and the power play in general, have been the reason for our goal increase every night," David said.
At 18.35 percent, Kenai River's power play ranks sixth in the league. Topeka leads the NAHL at 23.28 percent. The Brown Bears are operating at 36 percent on the man advantage since Feb. 25.
"As a coach, you always want to have great special teams," David said.
About the only area Skinnars in which Skinnars lacks is speed, David said. But his spacial awareness couldn't be better.
"He just has awareness in every situation," David said. "He has an exceptional knack for moving the puck."
"He knows where to go with the puck," Ramsey said.
Along with protecting the puck well, Skinnars' stick doubles as a sniper rifle, David said.
"He has a very, very, very accurate wrist shot," he said.
Skinnars has taken 118 shots as a Brown Bear, burying 18 of those past opposing net minders.
For someone who hopes to be receiving a paycheck for his work on the ice one day, playing in the tougher NAHL improved his game, Skinnars said.
"He is on his way to becoming a pro player and making a living playing hockey, that's for sure."
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