The Christmas break threw the Kenai River Brown Bears out of their groove. The team is hoping a quick trip to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex can restore that groove.
Interim head coach Taylor Shaw took over the team Nov. 18 and went 4-3-2-1 in the games leading up to Christmas break.
Since coming back from break, the Bears have been on the road the entire time and have gone 0-5-1-1.
Kenai River returns to the sports complex for 7:30 p.m. games today and Saturday, and a 5 p.m. game Sunday, against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets before returning to the road for six more games. The Bears then finish the season with 13 of their 15 games at home.
“We kind of got away from what we were doing to be successful,” Shaw said. “The biggest thing for us is we were getting some traction, then we went on break for two weeks.
“We’re finding that jam again and starting to play the right way.”
Jan. 6 to 8, Kenai River played its first three games this season against Janesville and lost all three. One loss was in a shootout and the other was in overtime.
Shaw said the Bears should have won both of those games. He also said the Jets will present a challenge this weekend.
Janesville earned the top seed last season in the Midwest Division before being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round by the fourth-seeded Brown Bears. Shaw said the Jets lost a lot of talent off that team, but are starting to hit their stride and have won their last five.
“They’re exciting to watch and they should be a good test,” Shaw said. “Our guys are looking forward to it. They’re ready to be back in front of their own fans and they still have a bitter taste from what happened down there a few weeks ago.”
The Jets are 16-17-0-1 and in seventh place in the Midwest Division, while the Bears are in last at 7-24-3-2.
Shaw said he hopes the larger ice at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex gets his team going again.
“We have a squad that’s built around being fast,” Shaw said. “Our guys are looking forward to being in our own rink and having a little bit more space than we’ve had the last month.”
Goalie Cole Wheaton joined the team for the two-game series last weekend in Fairbanks. Shaw said Wheaton was playing in Canada, but uncertainty in leagues there due to the coronavirus got Wheaton to come to Alaska and join goalies Tommy Aitken and Bryant Marks.
“He got in the mix and earned a start Saturday night,” Shaw said. “He didn’t get a win, but he certainly played well enough to get a win.”
Shaw said the Bears responded to a 10-1 loss Friday with a much better effort Saturday, with Kenai River’s Logan Kroyman and Caden Triggs getting the team going in the first period with successful fights. The Bears lost 5-3 on Saturday on an empty-netter.
Shaw said Dylan Evans and Jeffrey Bertrand are set to miss significant time with upper body injuries, while David Vieten has been traded to the Lone Star (Texas) Brahmas.
Joining the team are forwards Carter Cloutier and Barak Braslavski.
Shaw said the Bears realize they are a long way from the playoffs right now and are focusing on one game at a time.
“We had a great practice the last two days,” Shaw said. “Our guys are really excited to be back on home ice. That’s where our heads are right now.”