Brown Bears skate for Homer food pantry

Filling in while the Mariner hockey team is away this weekend, the Kenai River Brown Bears, a Junior A hockey team based in the central peninsula, will play a game at the Kevin Bell Arena on Friday and hold an open skate on Saturday. 

The event raises awareness, funds and food for the Homer Community Food Pantry. It is being held through a cooperative effort involving the Brown Bears, Homer Hockey Association, Kevin Bell Arena, Alaska USA and Land’s End Resort.

The Friday game begins at 7:30 p.m., with the Brown Bears dividing into Brown and Gold teams. Admission is free, with the public urged to bring food donations for the pantry. The evening also includes a raffle and other events to benefit the pantry.

Saturday’s free skate begins at 11:45 a.m. Food donations for the pantry also are encouraged for that event.

“The Kevin Bell Arena is about people helping people. The rink fosters community, sportsmanship and fair play through on ice activities,” said Shelly Laukitis, Homer Hockey Association vice president.

“This event allows the greater Homer Area the opportunity to visit our recreational facility, watch and meet high caliber athletes, while benefitting the Homer Community Food Pantry and those most in need. It’s a great weekend to be at the rink.”

Nate Kiel, the Brown Bears general manager and
 president, said the team is looking forward to this weekend’s events.  

“We’re bringing some food (for the pantry) with us when we roll into town and are going to have some fun, some prizes and lots of things going on at the rink on Friday,” said Kiel. “During intermission, we’re going to have a skills competition that not only involves Brown Bear players, but we hope to have some locals involved.”

The team is comprised predominantly of athletes between the ages of 16-20, some of them still in high school and some that have graduated.

“They play in the North American Hockey League of 24 teams from across the country. There’s one other team in state, the Fairbanks Ice Dogs,” said Kiel. In addition to being good at hockey, the athletes also are good students, carrying grade point averages between 3.5 and 4.0.

“That’s really the goal of these players, to gain college scholarships, athletic or academic, and perhaps play professional hockey someday,” said Kiel.

Another team emphasis is support the area in which they live. A game earlier this year drew attention to Lee Shore Women’s Resource Center in Kenai, the Brown Bears did a “Pink In the Rink” promotion and worked with the Central Peninsula Health Foundation to raise cancer awareness, and they participated with the U.S. Marines’ Toys for Tots holiday program.

“That’s another one of the things we do,” said Kiel.

“It’s good for the community and something we want to instill in our student athletes. They know when they come to play for the Brown Bears that is a big part of what we do. … We pride ourselves in doing that to build good community relations and to build a fan base.”

In its seventh year in existence, this is the team’s sixth year organized under the Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation, a nonprofit public charity offering activities for peninsula youth.

“We do camps, have helped out different nonprofits, churches and all kinds of groups,” said Kiel.

“We kind of pride ourselves in being not just a hockey team, but in helping communities be better places.”

One local skater the Brown Bears are keeping their eye on is Mariner forward center Tommy Bowe.

“He’s one of our top prospects who also is an affiliate for the Bears,” said Kiel. 

“He’s not on the team, but certainly is in our bull pen, so to speak. We’re very excited to watch his development.” 

This is a return visit to Homer for the Brown Bears.

“We actually came about five years ago and we’re really excited to be coming back to Homer,” said Kiel.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.