Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock does not think his team deserves to be on a seven-game losing streak as the Bears head into a weekend series at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex with the New Mexico Ice Wolves.
Murdock doesn’t think the Bears deserved to have a 10-game winning streak earlier in the season, either.
“During the 10-game winning streak, we didn’t deserve to win every game, but it evens out during the season,” said Murdock, whose team plays today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. “In the last seven games, we’ve lost a few games where I thought we deserved a better fate.
“For us, our goal is to be playing our best hockey at the end of the season.”
During the winning streak, Murdock said the coaching staff got away from the message of worrying about improving daily, not about the results. The losing streak has assured that message has been restored.
“I think for us, it’s good facing some adversity right now,” Murdock said. “I’d like to get out of the losing streak sooner rather than later, but it’s good to battle through some stuff and make sure we’re playing the right way every game.”
The seven-game skid has left the Brown Bears at 22-13-2-3, meaning they’ve spent a long time one victory short of matching last season’s win total.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs have zoomed to the front of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with 59 points, while the Bears have 49 points and third-place Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel is fast closing with 42 points. The final playoff spot out of the division is held by the Minnesota Magicians at 30 points.
With 147 goals this season, the Bears are second in the league. During the losing streak, Kenai River has scored just three or more goals in a game twice.
In getting swept by the Maine Nordiques 2-1 in overtime and 4-2 last weekend, Murdock said his squad played better on offense but was not rewarded.
“I thought we played pretty well on Friday and we played well on Saturday, we just struggled to get the bounces,” Murdock said.
On the flip side, the coach said of the five non-empty-net goals scored by the Nordiques, three bounced in off of something other than a stick.
One area where luck did not play a factor was conditioning in the third period. Murdock said his team ran out of gas in both games. After the holiday break, the team started with two series in Texas.
Murdock said he normally doesn’t condition much on the road because travel can be exhausting, so he thinks the team is a bit out of shape and has addressed that in practice this week.
Danny Fraga played between the pipes in both games for Kenai River. Landon Pavlisin has seen most of the action for the Bears this season, with 31 games.
“Landon struggled the first couple of games coming off Christmas break,” Murdock said. “Landon played so much in the first half, we were hoping to get Danny more playing time after the break.
“Danny’s been working hard in practice, he’s earned the opportunity and I thought he played well.”
The Ice Wolves are 8-26-2-2 and have scored just 73 goals, less than half of Kenai River’s 147. New Mexico has given up 140, six more than Kenai River. That would appear to indicate a mismatch, but the Ice Wolves have played better lately, sweeping the Brown Bears in New Mexico just two weeks ago.
“I think they’re a completely different team than where they were at the beginning of the year,” Murdock said. “They don’t have a ton of older guys. The staff knew they might struggle early on but they didn’t make a ton of moves and gave some of the guys the opportunity to develop.
“They’re starting to see the benefit from it.”
This is “Stick it to Cancer” weekend at the sports complex. Friday, nurses and EMTs get in free with staff ID. The Bears will wear special cancer jerseys, and hold a Skate with the Bears after Saturday’s game.