The Kenai River Brown Bears have finished in last place in the North American Hockey League West Division since the franchise's inception in 2007. The organization made steps to reverse that trend by drafting 11 players during Wednesday's 2010 NAHL Entry Draft.
"We want to make this team as difficult to make as possible," Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said Thursday. "We're trying to change the culture of our team."
Prior to the draft, Kenai River tendered nine players, six of which are Alaska natives.
"Even before the draft, we made sure to grab elite-level Alaskans," David said.
Each NAHL team is granted eight tenders, plus or minus any trades. Tenders become active on Nov. 1. Once a player signs a tender with a team, his playing rights belong to that team. He may not be recruited by any other team.
Drafted players, too, are property of the team that selected them until released by that organization. Players will be released if they're not signed after the main, preseason camp.
Teams can protect up to 30 players, including tendered, drafted and eligible returners. This season, all NAHL teams can have up to 23 active players on their roster.
Kenai River's main camp will be held July 22 to 25 in Minnesota. Any player from last year's team born prior to 1989 is eligible to return.
All players -- tendered, drafted and eligible returners -- have to earn a spot on the Brown Bears, David said.
"This is an opportunity to compete to make our team," he said. "It's all a very healthy, competitive cycle, as long as the kids are made fully aware of the process."
David, Nate Kiel, Brown Bears general manager, and Joel Christianson, assistant coach, scoured the country to find the next crop of Kenai River recruits. David said his main focus was on high-level Midget leagues. After the season ended, David attended the Midget National tournament in Chicago.
"We have scouts and other coaches at those youth levels that we rely on for honest assessments of players in their regions," David said. "I also made several trips this year to scout and recruit players at showcases and high-level tournaments throughout the country."
With Mike Martin departing for St. Norbert College next year, the first focus for David was between the pipes.
"We knew in the net we needed to go after some very capable goaltenders, and that process is still shaping up," David said. "We're still actively seeking to complete that tandem, or even trio, in net."
Next on David's list was building his defensive unit. Braden Kinnebrew, Jake Musselman and Matt Bennett -- all graduating blue liners --left big holes in the Brown Bears' defensive core, David said.
David said he's looking for more physical play and depth on the back end. He said his team was the better club on the ice most nights last year, however, Kenai River lost more often than won.
"That needs to change," David said. "I believe that changes with the defense being more resolute."
Kenai River lost five forwards from the 2009-10 campaign. Out of the nine tendered players, seven are forwards, David said.
"It will be very competitive at forward," he said. "It's really exciting to see all these hot talents that want to be Brown Bears. There's a lot of talent that will be competing to make the team."
The draft was an overall success for the Brown Bears, David said.
"We want to win," he said. "We want more kids to go to college. We want more people from the community in the stands, and we feel we've drafted to help our cause."
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