On a day the Kenai River Brown Bears lost their sixth straight game, the general manager of the team said the organization is continuing to try and find a way to get back to Alaska this season.
As of Sunday, Alaska no longer has a formal COVID-19 public health disaster declaration. Hedlund said that has the Bears feeling more optimistic about coming back to Alaska this season because there is no longer a policy that incoming travelers provide a negative COVID-19 test result or quarantine for five days.
“We’re still trying to figure out how to get up there,” Hedlund said. “It helps to get through that variable that teams no longer have to quarantine when they get up there, so they don’t have to come three or four days earlier than normal.”
The Bears recently moved their target date for returning to Alaska back by a few weeks. The team currently would like to get back for a March 26 game against the Minnesota Magicians at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Hedlund said a major hurdle remaining for the team is the limit of 250 spectators at the sports complex. Hedlund said the organization is working with the city of Soldotna to try and get that limit up.
After playing games in many different arena this season, Hedlund said the Bears have plenty of ideas for mitigation policies that would make it possible to have more fans.
Another potential hurdle is that both Kenai River and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs have to be able to get enough fans in their arenas. Hedlund said if Fairbanks can’t come back to Alaska, the Brown Bears also won’t be able to come up to Alaska.
“We want to have that home-ice advantage,” Hedlund said. “The players all want to get back up there and have that Alaska experience and all the stuff that goes with having the Brown Bears on the Kenai Peninsula.”
Hedlund said the North American Hockey League and the Bears’ opponents are both supportive of traveling during the pandemic because they want to do what they can to help Kenai River and Fairbanks.
Hedlund said the team is working with airfare tickets that have a 30-day notice for cancellation. He said the team can’t make the decision to come back until it is sure it would have the game-day revenue to pay for opponents to make the trip north.
The 30-day window would also allow the Bears to set up things like billets, meal sponsors and game-day volunteers.
By staying in the Lower 48, Hedlund said the team is able to operate at very low cost.
“If we lose a lot of money, that’s what could hurt us,” Hedlund said. “When we fly somebody up there, there’s a lot more risk than staying down here. We have to have a reward that’s worth that risk.”
Hedlund would like to give the fans a chance to see the team. Last season, the Bears were on the way to a playoff spot when the new coronavirus pandemic canceled the season.
This season, even with the current skid, the Bears are still in the thick of the race for the Midwest Division. Kenai River (10-12-0-0) is in fourth with 20 points, while the Minnesota Magicians are in first with 24 points.
The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel, who defeated the Bears 3-2 on Wednesday, are in last place with 12 points.
“It’s hard to be frustrated because we’re actually playing pretty well,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said.
Murdock said the Brown Bears have been missing crucial scoring chances during the losing streak.
Wednesday, all the goals came on the power play. Chippewa took a 2-0 lead into the third period.
Adam Szubert scored twice for the Bears, making for a 2-2 game with 7:52 to play. After Chippewa took the lead with 3:51 to play, Murdock said the Bears had plenty of good chances to tie but couldn’t cash in.
“It’s kind of funny, it’s like last year when we were winning games and finding ways to win games we probably didn’t deserve to win,” he said. “This year, it’s the complete opposite. We’re losing games we probably didn’t deserve to lose.”
Berk Berkeliev had 25 saves for the Steel, while Luke Pavicich stopped 29 for the Bears. Murdock said the goalies have been playing well enough to win games, and Wednesday was no exception.
Kenai River plays Friday and Saturday at 4:30 p.m. AKST at the Minnesota Magicians, then Sunday at the Minnesota Wilderness.
“We’re a little banged up going in, but it is what it is during this season,” Murdock said. “Everybody is going through the same stuff.”
Steel 3, Brown Bears 2
Kenai River 0 0 2 —2
Chippewa 1 1 1 —3
First period — 1. Chippewa, Gotovets (Benz, Brown), pp, 14:42. Penalties — Kenai River 2 for 4:00; Chippewa 1 for 2:00.
Second period — 2. Chippewa, Hansson (Baker, Cox), pp, 13:02. Penalties — Kenai River 3 for 17:00; Chippewa 3 for 17:00.
Third period — 3. Kenai River, Szubert (Winters, Helgeson), pp, 7:44; 4. Kenai River, Szubert (Morgan, Hill), pp, 12:08; 5. Chippewa, Lindstrom (Waltman, Hansson), pp, 16:09.
Shots on goal — Kenai River 5-14-8—27; Chippewa 13-6-13—32.
Goalies — Kenai River, Pavicich (32 shots, 29 saves); Chippewa, Berkeliev (27 shots, 25 saves).
Power plays — Kenai River 2 for 5; Chippewa 3 for 4.