The Kenai River Brown Bears finished the 2009-10 North American Hockey League season with the worst record in the league.
The Brown Bears were 12-40-6, good for 30 points. The next worst team in the league was North Iowa with a 15-37-6 record, good for 36 points.
Were the Brown Bears the worst team in the league? A case can be made the record was deceiving.
Throughout the season, there were indications that the deck was stacked against the Brown Bears because they played in the tough West Division.
After division opponent Fairbanks topped Kenai River 6-2 on Nov. 27, Ice Dogs coach Josh Hauge sang the praises of the West.
"This division is unbelievable," he said.
Hauge went on to say the Brown Bears would be a .500 team in other divisions.
Kenai River played 44 of its 58 regular-season games against division opponents Wenatchee (Wash.), Fairbanks and Wasilla.
The Brown Bears finished 8-33-3 in the division and 4-7-3 out of the division. In other words, Kenai River got 19 points in 44 division games but rolled up 11 points in just 14 nondivision games.
The only nondivision team the Brown Bears played more than twice was Alexandria, which finished 30-22-6. The Brown Bears finished 2-1-1 against the Blizzard.
The ultimate proof of the toughness of the West came in the Robertson Cup finals. The host automatically makes the Robertson Cup. Each of the four divisions also sends a representative.
Since Wenatchee hosted the event, the Robertson Cup included the Wild and the Ice Dogs.
The Wild lost their first two games of the round-robin event, including a loss to Fairbanks, and wound up 2-2. Fairbanks, which finished in third place in the West before upsetting Wasilla in the first round of the playoffs, went 3-1 to make the Robertson Cup final.
There, the Ice Dogs lost to Bismarck 3-0 on Sunday.
The Robertson Cup further pushes the case that the Brown Bears finished last in the league due to a tough division.
For starters, Fairbanks was third in the division and played for the league title.
Plus, there is Kenai River's record against the two finalists. The Brown Bears were 5-8-1 this year against Fairbanks, and 1-1 against Bismarck.
Unfortunately for the Brown Bears, life in the West will not get any easier. The Dawson Creek Rage and the Fresno Monsters are set to join the division next year.
Both franchises are located in areas with the hockey tradition and facilities to be an instant success, just like the Wild. Wenatchee played in the Roberston Cup final after its inaugural season in 2008-09 and this year had the best record in the league.
Just as this season it was possible for the Brown Bears to not be the worst team in the league yet have the league's worst record, next season it will be possible for the Brown Bears to improve and not make any headway in the brutal West.
Kenai Central's Lierin Flanagan recently broke her own school records in the 200- and 400-meter dashes at the 2010 Kenai Peninsula Borough meet last week. She won three individual races and helped Kenai's 800 relay team take first.
Quite an accomplishment. But Flanagan has the opportunity to once again outdo herself today and Saturday at the Region III meet in Palmer.
Should she compete in and win four events -- a likely scenario -- Flanagan will have 15 out of a possible 16 wins at region meets. Her lone blemish came her freshman year when she took second in the 400 behind Maggie Miller of ACS.
"That's a pretty amazing record," Kenai track coach Tim Sandahl said. "Her name is so familiar to everybody in Alaska. All the coaches know Lierin and just love to watch her run."
In 2007, Flanagan won the 100, 200 and was part of the first-place 1,600-relay team. In 2008, she took firsts in the 100, 200, 400 and 800 relay. Last year, Flanagan won the 100, 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She was also named female athlete of the year following the 2009 region meet.
Last year at state, Flanagan was part of the record-setting 1,600 relay team.
It's hard to imagine Flanagan can add to that list of achievements. To be that consistent in a variety of events every year is I was going to say remarkable, but that doesn't come close to describing the situation.
What's even more impressive is Flanagan has piled up accomplishment after accomplishment with the odds against her. A majority of female high school senior runners have difficulty duplicating previous times, said Dale Kennedy, head track coach at Montana State University, where Flanagan will run next year. After their freshmen and sophomore years, many girls tend to slow down, he said.
But not Flanagan.
"She's kind of defying that norm and she's getting better as a senior," Kennedy said. "We felt really fortunate to get Lierin."
MSU is a Division I program and competes in the Big Sky Conference.
All of Flanagan's success stems from her work ethic, Sandahl said.
"She just has to win," he said. "She does not ever give up. It doesn't matter how far behind."
I think "ahead" is a more appropriate end to that sentence.
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