The Kenai River Brown Bears open their home schedule with a North American Hockey League contest against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears carry a six-game winning streak into the contest and are 9-3-0-0, good for first place in Midwest Division. It’s a long way from last season, when the Bears were 1-9-0-0 headed into the home opener.
The Ice Dogs are 7-5-0-0, good for third place in the division, and are on a three-game losing streak. The Bears, Ice Dogs and Anchorage Wolverines are once again playing this season for the Club 49 Cup. Anchorage leads after a two-game sweep of Fairbanks.
Kenai River head coach Taylor Shaw said the team is excited to be back in Alaska. The Bears flew in Wednesday, then took a memorable bus ride from Anchorage.
“They were all glued to the window taking pictures and videos,” Shaw said.
The Bears skated twice on the sports center ice Thursday and will do a pregame skate today. The Olympic-sized sheet is bigger than the ice on which the Bears have been playing.
Shaw said the coaching staff did a lot of things to get the team used to the different angles available on the bigger ice.
“We’re still a fast team,” Shaw said. “We get up and down the ice pretty good. It will be exciting to see them play on the big sheet.”
The Bears have been getting solid goaltending thus far.
Nils Wallstrom, who has won the Midwest Division Star of the Week two weeks in a row, is 7-2-0-0 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. Wasilla’s Bryant Marks, who committed to the University of Alaska Anchorage this season, is 2-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
By combining that defense and goaltending with balanced scoring, the Bears have been able to pile up wins.
Through 12 games, Kenai River has seven players with six or more points. Ryan Finch leads with 14 points, while Garett Drotts and Bryce Monrean, a University of Alaska Fairbanks commit from Anchorage, each have 10.
“The biggest thing for us is to concern ourselves with the details,” Shaw said. “We have to be aware of what Fairbanks is doing to a certain extent, but we have to make our execution the focal point.”