Just as fans were beginning to learn this year's Kenai River Brown Bears, five new faces have joined the team.
Four new additions and one former Brownie will suit up tonight and Saturday as the team takes on the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The biggest loss for Kenai River is top-scorer Dajon Mingo. He was traded to the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild last week for Jesse Ramsey and other undisclosed considerations. Wenatchee is a West Division rival for Kenai River in the North American Hockey League.
"Mingo didn't want to be in Alaska," said interim head coach Oliver David on Wednesday. "(He) asked for a trade and we took the time to entertain all the offers that came in. Between our (general manager) and myself, we decided Wenatchee made the best offer.
"We got a great prospect from them in Jesse Ramsey," he said. "It's important that we have players that want to be here."
Ramsey, 18, put up three goals and one assist in 16 games with the Wild. Mingo tallied 19 points in 20 games with Kenai River.
Though the deal is lopsided on paper, David said there are other terms to the contract, which he would not disclose, that sweeten the transaction for the Brownies.
Besides Ramsey, David said the team received "a considerable amount of other things that will help us grow."
Mingo centered Kenai River's top line with Jed McGlasson and Josh Royston. The trio averaged about two points per game.
As a young player, Ramsey will help the organization's future growth, David said.
"We're kind of rebuilding and at the same time staying competitive," he added.
The Brown Bears released forwards Trenton Krueger and Mike Greene. The team has added Keith Tessin.
Tessin was playing for the Boulder Bison in Colorado, a Tier 3 Junior A team. The Brown Bears, as part of the North American Hockey League, are a Tier 2 Junior A team.
Tessin tried out for the Brownies but failed to earn a spot on the final squad.
"We decided to give him another shot at this level," David said. So far, David has liked what he's seen from Tessin. He's been productive in practice, David added.
EJ Gann is another new Brown Bear that will get his first taste of Junior A hockey. Gann was the captain of the San Jose (Calif.) Jr. Sharks Midget 18AAA team. Gann amassed three goals and three assists in 20 games played this season.
"He's a promising prospect for us and our organization," David said.
Gann, Tessin and Ramsey will all see ice time tonight, David said.
The fourth new member of Kenai River is Matt Cinader. He was playing for the Flint (Mich.) Generals, a Tier 3 Junior A team in Michigan. The 6-foot-3 left winger was acquired to score goals.
Both Cinader and Tessin averaged more than a goal per game, David said.
"He is being brought in for his scoring touch," David said. "We wanted to upgrade on the left wing. He hopefully will be able to fill the void in the offensive zone."
Former Brown Bears defenseman Matt Bennett was asked to rejoin the team. Bennett, who played last season, did not make the team out of training camp.
At 5-14-1, David said as much as he tries not to focus on the team's record, it does warrant some attention. So he's giving some players, like Bennett, a second chance to prove they can skate at the Junior A level.
"He's a very tenacious player," David said about Bennett. He's smart and positionally sound, too, he said.
The Brown Bears have made several adjustments in their strategy over the last few months as well as attempting to get the right mix of players, David said. The organization also wants to provide the best system and structure for its players to flourish, he said.
"We're trying to match style of play with style of player," David said. "I think the guys that we brought in will fit nicely in our structure."
Though they may fit well into the system, all of the newest additions have to earn their playing time.
"All of these guys are on kind of a trial basis," David said. "They're all here trying to earn a spot on this team."
The rest of the squad earned a spot in the lineup during tryout camp and preseason, David said. The new recruits all came to Alaska with the understanding playing time must be earned, he said.
Tyler Poulsen and Russ Whited also left the Brown Bears. Poulsen decided to return to his former team, the Eugene (Ore.) Generals, in the Northern Pacific Hockey League. Whited went to Motor City to be closer to his family.
"I think once some of these players got here, they didn't necessarily realize where they were coming and didn't prepare accordingly, mentally or what have you," David said. "The players that have asked for trades have made it very clear they didn't necessarily want to come here."
It's crucial to not only have skilled players on the team, but also players that want to be in the state, David said.
"These guys I don't think ever fully committed to Alaska," he said. "We want guys who want to be here."
David said it's important to remember the previous statement for future recruiting efforts.
"It's very important from here on out while recruiting, as staff, we consider less the region or previous team that someone is coming from and put lots of stock into the player that wants to come here," he said.
Mike Nesper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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