Just 12 games into the Kenai River Brown Bears' third season, first-year assistant coach Oliver David assumed the head-coaching duties after Marty Quarters was fired. Though the team finished a league-worst 12-40-6, David remained positive -- as he has all year -- while reflecting on the past season Friday via cell phone. Wenatchee recently ended Kenai River's season with a three-game sweep in the first round of the playoffs.
"I was handed a group of guys that were basically all new to each other," David said. "Where we started and where we ended, I think everyone intimately involved with the team realizes that we upgraded quite substantially."
David cited the transactions that gave the team defensemen Braden Kinnebrew, who's committed to Castleton State College, a Vermont-based Division III NCAA school, and Ray Stenehjem as sound trades that strengthened Kenai River's blue line. Kinnebrew finished the regular season tied for 20th among top-scoring North American Hockey League defensemen with 24 points.
The addition of Johan Skinnars, who led the team with 41 points in 31 games, was another positive trade for the Brown Bears, he said. The trio of Skinnars, Brad Duwe and Jesse Ramsey combined for 71 points in the regular season since forming a line on Dec. 18.
Duwe and Ramsey, both in their first year in the NAHL, benefited from their 20-year-old linemate's experience.
"Ramsey was one of our most improved players," David said.
Along with team captain Skinnars and Kinnebrew, captain Brad Fusaro, Jake Musselman, Matthew Cinader, Ryan Townsend, Casey Kirley and goaltender Mike Martin won't be eligible to play next year due to age.
"For those that won't be around, they added what we needed for this year," David said.
For future success, it's crucial to recruit players that want to come to the state, David said.
"It's important to have guys that want to be in Alaska," he said. "We learned that this year."
Of the potential returning Brown Bears, David's hopeful that he can retain a good-sized group to build on for next season. "It looks like quite a few guys want to return and have the ability to return as well," David said. "I'm counting on that core group of guys to be instrumental in next year's success."
David was already starting on next season by working with Nate Kiel, the team's general manager, to improve the squad. David spoke to the Clarion while on a recruiting trip in Chicago.
"It started literally the day after we were knocked out," David said. "That shows the dedication of Nate and even our owner."
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