The Kenai River Brown Bears underwent an off-season overhaul from top to bottom.
No facet of the organization was ignored.
The first head coach in franchise history was dismissed two days after the season ended, the team transitioned to nonprofit status and the actual squad was constructed with a potent offense in mind.
Local fans will now get their first taste of the new-look Brown Bears today when the Fairbanks Ice Dogs come to town for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with Kenai River at the Soldotna Sports Center.
"I'm curious to see how we're going to do coming home to that ice," said coach Brent Agrusa, who was hired to replace the fired Mike Flanagan. "If we do the things that we're supposed to do, we should have a lot of success at home over the course of the season."
Skating on an Olympic-sized sheet of ice at the Sports Center was factored into the equation when Agrusa and general manager Nate Kiel pieced together the team.
"There's no question, we're certainly one of the fastest teams in the league and we certainly showed that at the (NAHL) Showcase," Agrusa explained. "I feel we're prepared to play on it and we're built to play on it."
The Brown Bears also have demonstrated they can play on regulation-size ice, too.
Kenai River commenced the franchise's second season with a pair of wins at the NAHL Showcase in Minnesota, where they went 2-2, including an overtime win over the two-time defending league champion St. Louis Bandits.
"I thought we played for the most part fairly well. I thought our speed looked good. I thought we moved the puck fairly well," he said. "We're young. I think we made some young mistakes in some of the games, but the nice thing about a young team is you're only going to keep getting better."
But it's one of the older players who's making early season headlines.
Forward and captain Nick Simson, one of four returners from last year's team, has already accumulated two goals and two assists, including the first goal of the year only 38 seconds into the season opener and the game-winning tally in the Brown Bears 4-3 win over the Bandits.
"He's doing a great job of leading," Agrusa said. "He's done a great job, not only on the ice ... but he's also done a good job off the ice."
Aside from Simson, returners include forwards Jed McGlasson and Kevin Wentland and defenseman Jake Musselman, all four of whom probably haven't forgotten Kenai River's 1-11 mark against Fairbanks last season.
The Brown Bears lone win against the Ice Dogs was a 4-3 victory in the season finale.
"Last year's last year. ... I certainly feel it will be good hockey games this weekend," Agrusa said, adding he watched Fairbanks play at the showcase. "We'll do the things that it takes to make sure we get some wins this weekend and get off to a good start at home.
"One thing that I saw at the showcase is most teams looked fairly close to each other this year," he added. "It's going to be one of those things where you better come to play or you won't win those nights."
Following today's game, the Brown Bears host Western Division foe Fairbanks again on Saturday before the Alaska Avalanche come to town for a pair of games on Oct. 10 and 11.
"Good teams win at home and great teams win at home and on the road. If you want to be a championship team you've got to be able to win both. I think it is important here to get off to a good start at home," Agrusa said. "If we can come out this weekend and generate some success against Fairbanks, it will be another step in the right direction.
"I feel good about the direction we're going and where we're at."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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