Kenai River Brown Bears coach Jeff Worlton said the team took a major step forward Tuesday with the North American Hockey League Draft.

The Brown Bears selected 14 players as they try to right the ship after finishing with the league’s worst record the past two seasons.

“We feel very good about the players we were able to draft,” Worlton said. “The staff worked extremely hard — it wasn’t just me, it was the entire staff.

“We’re very excited about the players we have identified that are coming into the program.”

The number of draft picks each team gets is determined by how many players from the previous season are protected and by the number of tenders a team has. When a team tenders a player, it takes him off the draft board.

The protected players, plus the tenders, plus the draft picks equal 30.

The Bears protected eight of the 23 players that finished the season with the team, and are not required to make those eight players public. Eight tenders plus 14 draft picks gets the Bears to 30.

So there’s a good chance a significant portion of next season’s team was selected Tuesday.

From the day he was hired just past the midpoint of last season, Worlton said one of his selling points as a coach would be his ability to outwork others in the offseason.

He then put in a scouting staff, led by Rich Michalowski, director of scouting, that he said shared that same work ethic.

As a result, Worlton said the Bears were very prepared for Tuesday.

“The staff and Rich, all the guys, put lots and lots of man hours into it,” Worlton said. “They did a great job reaching out.

“Every kid we drafted, we spoke to numerous times, plus their parents and advisers. The staff deserves a lot of credit.”

Worlton said he knows he drafted a group that will be fine with playing on the Kenai Peninsula.

“They gotta be good human beings, and they have to be players that want to be Brown Bears and want to be in Alaska,” Worlton said. “That was the most important thing and we built off that.”

While the coach said some players had no interest in Alaska, he said many jumped at the opportunity.

“This is a great opportunity for any player,” Worlton said. “We worked hard on calling kids and presenting them with this opportunity.

“It’s an opportunity to get to play hockey at one of the highest levels and to get to live in Alaska. There’s not too many people who can say they’ve done that.”

The Bears had three picks in the first two rounds, taking defenseman Christopher Lipe with the third overall pick, defenseman Jordin Holmes with the 27th overall pick and forward John Sladic with the 32nd pick.

Worlton did not want to single out the picks.

“All of them know I’m excited about all of them and not just one,” the coach said.

The Bears also recently announced that they had tendered Alex Dingeldein, a defenseman from the Milwaukee Jr Admirals.

Worlton said the NAHL schedule should be out within a couple of weeks. The next major event is main camp, which will be July 22 to 27 at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. Worlton said the Pettit Ice Center was chosen because it has an Olympic-sized sheet, just like the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

To view the draft selections, click here.