The current hockey season has been an eventful one for Caleb Huffman.
Huffman, a Tribal Member, started the season playing for the Kenai River Brown Bears, a junior hockey team based in Soldotna. The Brown Bears have been right in the thick of things in the North American Hockey League’s Midwest Division, and in October, Huffman was promoted to team captain for his leadership on and off the ice.
Through the team’s first 29 games, Huffman had five goals and 12 assists from his defenseman position. He scored a dramatic overtime winner just before Thanksgiving to give his team a two-game sweep of the rival Anchorage Wolverines.
And in early December, Huffman received an offer to play Division I college hockey at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
For Huffman, getting to the Brown Bears has been winding road. Huffman was initially cut by the Brown Bears during the 2020-21 season, and instead played with the North Iowa Bulls of the North American Tier III Hockey League.
“It was a step down, but I played a ton of minutes every night. I think it helped me in the long run,” Huffman said.
Huffman was called up and made his debut with the Brown Bears in March 2021, and played in 55 regular season games for Kenai River during the 2021-22 season.
One of the benefits of being able to play for Kenai River, Huffman said, has been for him to better get to know his Tribe. Huffman was born in Fairbanks and grew up in Anchorage. While he’s participated in some Tribal activities, such as the educational fishery, he said he never realized the presence the Tribe has on the Kenai Peninsula.
“I didn’t know as much about Kenaitze as I do now from living in Kenai for a year and a half,” Huffman said.
His first day in Kenai, he said he saw one of the Tribe’s shuttle buses making its rounds. After that, he started noticing the Tribe’s vehicles all over town. He said he had to ask his mother, Lisa, who is active in the Tribe’s governance, about all the services the Tribe provides.
He also takes pride in wearing his Tribal Member jacket, and said it’s been a conversation starter when he bumps into other people in the community wearing Kenaitze apparel.
“It’s like we’re family and know each other already,” Huffman said.
Huffman said his father, James, got him started with hockey. He was on skates “even before I knew what it was.”
He said he loves the speed of the game.
“It’s so much faster than any other sport, being able to fly up and down the ice,” Huffman said.
Huffman said he also appreciates being able to play in front of the home fans at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, the Brown Bears’ home ice.
At UAA, Huffman said he plans to study business and finance, and minor in Alaska Native business management.
“It’s an interesting field, and not like other businesses. There’s more to it,” Huffman said.
Huffman said he is also interested in working for the Tribe, in part because he would like to continue to learn more about his culture.
Huffman is making the jump from junior to NCAA hockey mid-season, and is already suiting up for the Seawolves.