Whether the Kenai River Brown Bears are winning or losing, the message from head coach Kevin Murdock is consistent.
That’s why Murdock is not satisfied as the Bears carry a four-game North American Hockey League winning streak into a heavy home slate that will see them play six home games in 10 days.
The first three are against the Springfield (Illinois) Blues, starting at 7 p.m. tonight at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Games 2 and 3 in the series are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
The Bears won the first two games in their current successful string much differently than the last two. That’s why Murdock isn’t satisfied.
“It all comes back to consistency and staying focused for the full 60 minutes,” he said.
Nov. 1, the Bears topped the Northeast (Massachusetts) Generals 4-3 in overtime by tying the game with just four seconds left.
For the next night’s 5-3 win, Kenai River fell behind 3-0 before scoring five unanswered goals — four in the fourth period.
Contrast that to the home sweep of the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel last weekend, which instead featured fast starts and slower finishes.
Friday, the Bears led 4-0 after two periods and ended up winning 6-1.
“Friday, we got away from what made us successful the first two periods,” Murdock said.
Saturday, Kenai River took a 5-3 lead with 3:20 left but a late Chippewa goal and some Bears penalties made things too interesting for Murdock’s tastes in the 5-4 win.
“I think at the end of the day, it’s great to win those games, but we’ve still got some work to do,” the coach said. “Obviously, we kind of took our foot off the gas late in the game.”
Kenai River is 11-5-1-2, good for second place in the Midwest Division. The Bears are two points behind division-leading Fairbanks.
Springfield is 7-9-2-1 and tied for fourth, but the Jr. Blues are coming off a 5-3 victory in Fairbanks.
Just short of a third of the way through the season, Kenai River has scored four or more goals 11 times, including in the last five games.
Last season, the Bears struggled to score, finishing with just 15 games of four or more goals.
Finding more scoring was a big offseason objective for Murdock.
“They’ve gotten to the point where they’re starting to grasp on to some of the concepts we’ve been working on for the last two months,” Murdock said. “The nice part about having success is they’re seeing the stuff we’ve been working on pay off.”
The line of Zach Krajnik of Eagle River, rookie Theo Thrun and Logan Ritchie has clicked. Krajnik is tied for fourth in the league with four points, while Thrun is tied for sixth with 23. Ritchie has 16 points.
One line can’t do all the scoring, though.
“Depth is something I’m happy with,” Murdock said. “For the most part, I’m happy with our four lines, and we can use everybody in most any situation.”
Kenai River also has relied heavily on goalie Landon Pavlisin, who is 10-3-0-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.
“He’s been giving us a chance to win games and that’s all you can really ask for in a goalie,” Murdock said. “It’s hard not to play him.”
The coach added that Danny Fraga will get some action with the heavy load of games coming up.
The Bears defense also got a boost when Anchorage’s Ryan Reid had a fighting in the last five minutes penalty changed to a roughing double minor, meaning he is not suspended for tonight’s game.
Tonight’s game is Youth Night and Fill the Net Night. Children 12 and under get in free, but must be accompanied by an adult.
Adults get a $5 ticket with a food donation that goes to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank. These $5 tickets are only available at the door on game day.
Friday is Hometown Heroes Night, with police, firefighters and troopers getting in free by showing their badge.
Saturday there will be a postgame skate with the Bears.