Jake Musselman has made Kenai River Brown Bears history.
The 21-year-old defenseman recently committed to the U.S. Air Force Academy. He will become the first Brown Bear to go directly from the team to NCAA Division I hockey.
Patrick Sullivan, who played with Kenai River last season, committed to Canisus College for the 2010-11 season. Former Brown Bear, Andrej Sustr, signed with the University of Nebraska Omaha. Sustr played with Kenai River during the 2008-09 season.
"I'm superexcited to go," Musselman said Wednesday. "I'm kind of in shock still. Probably my top goal in hockey was to go DI."
His former North American Hockey League coach, Oliver David, and future Air Force coach, Frank Serratore, both said Musselman's best attribute is his skating ability.
"He was always a very dynamic player," David said Wednesday via cell phone. "His skating ability alone propels him to the top of the ladder. He's been singled out for that ability."
"Jake is short, but stocky and strong, and most importantly, Jake is an exceptionally strong skater," Serratore said Wednesday via e-mail.
Musselman has been part of Kenai River's franchise since its inception three years ago. He played just five games with Springfield before being traded to the Brown Bears during the 2007-08 season.
"I had a great time," Musselman said of his time spent in Alaska. "The community there is just great."
Playing in the NAHL gave Musselman collegiate exposure.
"Definitely, it got me looks from colleges," he said. "It helps that we have good teams in our division, too."
Musselman said there were always scouts when he played at Wenatchee (Wash.) and Fairbanks.
Musselman's resolve and competitiveness make him an elite hockey player, David said.
"He's very firey. He's very competitive," he said. "He's a team guy. Everybody loved him on the team."
Having grown up in Littleton, Col., just under an hour from the Air Force Academy, Musselman played Midget AAA hockey with Serratore's twin sons, Tim and Tom.
"He already knew about me before I went to juniors," Musselman said.
Once he visited the school, Musselman's concerns over the military requirements were eased, he said. Musselman said he's excited to be back in his home state and playing Division I hockey not far from where he grew up.
A 10-game winning streak throughout November and December propelled the Falcons to their fourth-consecutive Atlantic Hockey Association Final Four and fourth-straight winning season at 16-15-6 overall.
Air Force finished third out of the 10-team league. AHA top-seeded Rochester Institute of Technology earned its first trip to the Frozen Four this year.
Musselman is one of nine incoming freshmen, all of whom were recruited from the NAHL. This season, 16 of Air Force's 24 players were former NAHL players, Serratore said.
"The majority of our team is from the NAHL, as we must recruit United States citizens," he said.
Serratore said Musselman should develop well at the next level.
"We recruited Jake because he is physically strong for a short man and is an exceptional skater," he said. "We believe these attributes will provide a solid foundation in which to build his game. How much depth he eventually adds to his game will be predicated upon his determination, ability level and willingness to except roles."
Serratore anticipates Musselman will play a key role on the Falcons' blue line in the coming years.
"At a minimum, we would like to see Jake eventually develop into a solid 5-6 defenseman, who plays a regular shift and kills penalties," he said. "Obviously we would like to see him become more, but this is what we hope to get from him at a minimum."
Musselman is confident he can make the transition to Division I hockey.
"I think I'll be fine. My skill set is pretty much there," he said.
Playing smarter hockey is essential as a player moves up, Musselman said.
"Players just don't make as many mistakes at that level," he said.
Musselman, who must report to boot camp in June, is leaning toward majoring in engineering, but said he hasn't decided.
Playing with Kenai River, which has just 38 total wins in three seasons, Musselman's statistics aren't among the best in the league. However, he still attracted collegiate attention.
"I'm glad that he's been given the opportunity despite not necessarily putting up great numbers," David said. "Musselman's talent can't be denied. Musselman has some serious talent."
Mike Nesper can be reached at email@example.com.
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