Nearly everything has failed to snap the Brown Bears from a funk. One of the last resorts for the team is home ice.
The Bears are finally done with a 13-game road trip and return to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex with 7:30 p.m. games tonight and Saturday against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The road trip started with a 3-2, shootout victory over the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild on Nov. 28. The Bears then lost their next 12 games, picking up just two points due to a pair of extra-time losses.
The stretch of 12 games without a win is the longest in the league this year and leaves the Bears at 11-23-2, just four points behind the Minnesota Wilderness in the race for the last playoff slot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
The biggest hope the Bears have left is home ice, where they are 6-8-0 compared to 5-15-2 on the road.
“I know for a lot of people in the community, it’s been a long two months without hockey,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Our goal every year is to be above .500 at home. We want to be in the three-quarter range at home, and right now we’re a couple of games below .500.”
Kenai River has 14 games left at home, while Minnesota (9-10-0 home, 5-13-0 away) has just nine home games left. The Magicians also have played one more game with the Bears.
“These games at home in the next six to eight weeks are going to determine our fate,” Beauparlant said.
The first test at home is a tough one in the form of the Ice Dogs, who are 23-11-3 and in second in the Midwest.
Fairbanks has a 5-1 lead in the Ravn Alaska Cup, the season-long battle for supremacy between Alaska’s only two junior teams.
The Ice Dogs beat the Bears 6-1 and 5-0 last weekend in Fairbanks.
The Ice Dogs were 5 of 12 on the power play in the games, while the Bears were 0 for 10.
“Our special teams need to be better,” Beauparlant said. “We were going at a pretty good clip before the break, and even carried that through Pennsylvania, but this past weekend we didn’t capitalize on special teams at all.”
Beauparlant said the good news is goalies Alec Derks and Evan Hauser continued to play well despite the losses.
“They held us in games, but you can’t ask them to hold the fort for 60 minutes without run support,” Beauparlant said. “They had been giving up some soft goals after our guys had scored, and that deflates momentum.
“But now they’re helping us increase our positive energy on the bench during the game.”
Notes: Tonight will be Tesoro Alaska night. For each $1 or food item donated to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, fans will be entered into a drawing for prizes.
Saturday will be Stanley Auto Group night and feature a Mini-Mites game between periods.