Of the 25 games left in their season, the Kenai River Brown Bears will play just four out of Alaska and nine total on the road.
With 14 points separating the Bears from a playoff spot, any talk of Kenai River sharpening up its postseason skates is, to loosely paraphrase Jim Mora, premature at this point.
But the fact remains the Bears constructed their roster with young talent designed to peak at the end of the year, and extended home ice can only facilitate that fact.
“If we can get on a roll, the playoffs are within reach,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “If we win some games at home and feel good about ourselves, you never know what will happen when a young team with good goaltending feels good about itself.”
The Bears are coming off a 4-9 road trip that started all the way back on Dec. 2.
While goalie Robbie Goor said spending Mondays in hotels watching “The Bachelor” with his teammates had its place, he added that it is definitely nice to be back on the Kenai Peninsula.
“It’s good to be back living in homes after six weeks in hotels,” Goor said. “It’s good to be back on a more normal schedule.”
Worlton said travel for his team is no different than travel for anybody else.
“The kids are home and they can get into the routine of doing things like volunteering and going to the shooting range,” Worlton said. “Routine is good for anybody.”
The Bears open the homestand tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex with games against the Aston (Pennsylvania) Rebels.
Aston is tied for second in the North American Hockey League in points with a 29-5-1-0 record, while the Bears sit at 8-25-2-0.
The Rebels notched a pair of 3-0 wins over the Bears last weekend.
Those games continued a trend of solid defense and little offense for the Bears.
On the 13-game road trip, Kenai River gave up more than three goals just three times. But the Bears scored more than one goal just seven times, and just twice in the last eight games.
“Our team defense is good and our goaltending is good, but the offensive side has been a struggle,” Worlton said. “Our power play was red hot, but now it’s ice cold.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to score goals again.”
Worlton is hoping the large ice sheet at the sports complex will help.
It’s easy to forget the Bears have a three-game home winning streak in effect after sweeping Fairbanks in late November.
“The littler guys we have are excited to be back on this ice,” Worlton said. “They have more time to skate around and be creative.”
Goor is tied for 11th in the league in goals-against average, but Worlton said that’s not only a sign of good goaltending, but good defense.
He gave Evan Butcher as an example. Butcher had 11 goals and 15 assists in 59 games last season, and has six goals and nine assists in 34 games this season.
“The biggest difference is he’s made a decision to be coachable and held accountable on the defensive side of the puck,” Worlton said. “He and the whole team have done a better job on defense and I can’t stress that enough.”
Notes: The Bears have added a pair of young forwards to the roster in 1998 birthdates Jake Friedman of Lighthouse Point, Florida, and Alex Klekotka of Flint, Michigan. …
The team will be auctioning off cancer jerseys tonight and Saturday.