By: Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai River Brown Bears announced the promotion of Chris Hedlund to General Manager in a press release Wednesday.
Hedlund will take over the GM position from Nate Kiel, who has served in the role for all but one of the team’s 12-year existence. Kiel will continue to serve as president of the club’s parent operation Kenai Peninsula Youth Foundation.
In the press release, the team stated a five-year plan to work with the foundation for a brighter future. Hedlund, who currently lives in Blaine, Minnesota, said that starts by focusing on the details.
“We’ve laid out some structure in implementing those plans,” he said. “The goal is to keep doing what we’re doing well. We want to keep getting better at the little daily tasks so players continue to be successful and the team can create excitement for the community.”
The promotion continues a rapid ascent in the Brown Bears organization for Hedlund, who has been with the team for three years, starting in 2016 as a regional scout. Born and raised in Anoka, Minnesota, Hedlund used his midwest experience to help find talent from the region.
Hedlund was promoted to Director of Hockey Operations in 2017, then Associate General Manager in 2018.
In taking over Kiel’s position, Hedlund begins a new era for the front office. Kiel has been involved with the Bears since the beginning, and has worked as the GM in an official capacity since 2008-09. In the team’s inaugural campaign in 2007-08, Mike Flanagan served a dual role as GM and head coach.
“I think Chris has the energy to really take on everything the job entails,” Kiel said. “At the same time, I will still be involved and be there to help and advise. I want to help the team succeed and Chris succeed, he’s done a lot to get us where he’s at.”
The Bears are currently on a franchise-high win streak of 10 games and lead the North American Hockey League Midwest division.
Having begun his involvement with the club during a period of struggle, Hedlund knows what the organization is capable of. Kenai River bottomed out with a 4-51-5 record in 2015-16, then announced in Feb. 2017 that the team would cease operations that year, but a grassroots effort by the central peninsula community raised $300,000 to keep the club afloat.
Hedlund said he hopes to keep working with the team’s involvement and exposure in the community. The Bears have often hosted community events and donated time and energy to fundraising efforts.
“We’ve been building on this since the ‘Save the Bears’ year,” he said. “Each year we’ve gotten better, and we’ve built a better talent pool. We want the community to see the strength and character of the players.
“We’ve been heavy in the schools, heavy in the past with the Boys and Girls Club, and it’s coming to fruition. We want to be better at the basics of being a good steward in the community.”
The efforts have apparently been paying off. During the team’s recent run of success, attendance at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex has also been rising, peaking last Saturday at 1,859 as the Bears treated the fans to a shootout victory over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.