MASON CITY, Iowa – As the Kenai River Brown Bears begin their 2020-21 regular season this Friday night in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, forward Caleb Huffman will instead be back on the ice with the North Iowa Bulls. His ties to the Brown Bears, however, remain as strong as ever, and head coach Kevin Murdock wanted to keep it that way as Huffman returned to North Iowa. Huffman has signed a North American Hockey League tender with Kenai River, marking the earliest NAHL tender signing in any one season in North Iowa history.
The Anchorage, Alaska product started the season on the Bulls’ roster, and was chosen by North Iowa in the second round of this past spring’s NA3HL Draft after an impressive two seasons with the famed Meijer AAA program in Michigan. He has long been on the Brown Bears’ radar as well, however, with Kenai River using their 10th-round draft pick on him in this past summer’s NAHL Draft.
Huffman attended Kenai River’s preseason training camp, and will hope to continue the hot start he enjoyed at the beginning of October, notching a goal and two assists in his first junior game on October 2 against the Alexandria Blizzard. That game came immediately before the start of the Brown Bears’ preseason camp, giving him just one official junior game under his belt heading into the weekend.
He becomes the 39th North Iowa player to sign an NAHL tender, and the third to ink an agreement with the Brown Bears. Defenseman Chancie Hanson signed a tender with Kenai River during the 2012-13 season on his way to a college career at St. John’s University in Minnesota, and Lucas Wahlin signed a tender with the Brown Bears last year.
Huffman’s move back to the Brown Bears would also mark another example of the NAHL’s “Ladder of Development” at work, after his three years in the North American Prospects Hockey League. He not only spent two years in the NAPHL with his Meijer AAA squad, but also played on the Alaska Oilers’ 15-and-under NAPHL squad. 27 NA3HL players signed tenders with NAHL teams last season, with North Iowa players inking five of those.
“We’re super-excited about the ability for Caleb to tender with Kenai River this early in the year,” said Bulls head coach Todd Sanden. “We’re hoping that now he can focus on his game and his teammates, and helping us win a Fraser Cup championship.”
A tender is a type of contract that a player signs announcing his intentions to play only for that particular NAHL team. Once a player signs a tender with an NAHL team, his playing rights belong to that team within the NAHL and he may not be recruited by any other NAHL team. Huffman will also not be eligible for next summer’s NAHL Draft, and any NAHL appearances he makes for the remainder of this season will be made as a member of the Brown Bears.
The North Iowa Bulls congratulate Caleb Huffman on signing a North American Hockey League tender with the Kenai River Brown Bears, and wish him continued success as he begins his junior hockey career.