In the rough and tumble world of the North American Hockey League, everybody is seldom a winner.
The rare exception will come tonight and Saturday at the Kenai Multi-Purpose Facility, when the Kenai River Brown Bears scrimmage the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 7:30 p.m. on both nights.
Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said anytime a player throws on a sweater, or a coach steps behind the bench, there is a desire to win.
But Petrich sees a number of benefits to the scrimmages no matter the outcome.
The Bears open their home season Oct. 20, but will have played 10 road games before that, starting Wednesday against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
“It’s an opportunity to give the community something after they gave us so much,” Petrich said. “We wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the effort of the fans last spring.”
Each scrimmage will cost $5, with tickets available at the door, The Bears Den and Redline Sports in the Multi-Purpose Facility. Starting at 6 p.m., Petrich said tailgating is encouraged before the game. There also will be a beer garden.
The games will provide the Bears and Ice Dogs a valuable chance to kick the tires before playing in the North American Hockey League Showcase from Wednesday to Sept. 23.
The Showcase is doubly important. It starts the regular season and gives the players a chance to play in front of pro and college scouts.
“We’ll take Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to teach and work so we’ll be more polished when we play in front of the scouts Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Petrich said.
According to the 23 in 23 Series on NAHL.com, the Ice Dogs have 14 veterans returning to a team that lost in the Midwest Division finals last season. The Ice Dogs did lose leading scorers Hampus Eriksson and Cayden Cahill, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The Brown Bears are looking to return to the playoffs after a three-year absence. In his first season at the helm, Petrich is looking to put the major building blocks in place to make that happen, and these scrimmages are part of that.
A big piece of the puzzle was announced to the team Wednesday, when Petrich named Soldotna’s Preston Weeks captain and Carter Wade of Ephrata, Washington, the assistant captain.
“They both lead by example,” Petrich said. “They are guys you want to build your culture around.”
Weeks, a defenseman, is only 18 but joined the team late in the 2015-16 season, then spent all of last season with the club.
Although he has two seasons of junior eligibility left after this season, at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he has a physical maturity beyond his years.
Petrich said both Weeks and Wade did great on off-ice tests like the two-mile run, squat and bench press.
“I’m ready for it,” Weeks said. “My whole life, I’ve played with older guys.
“We have a good leadership group, and the guys all support me.”
Petrich said Weeks is a natural leader, so his new role is not a major shift.
“It doesn’t change anything I’ve been doing so far,” Weeks said. “I will just be more under the microscope on and off the ice.”
Weeks is just the third Brown Bears player from the Kenai Peninsula to wear the “C,” joining current assistant Jed McGlasson and Brad Fusaro. Both were captains in the 2009-10 season.
With leadership in place, Petrich will be looking for integrity to systems during the scrimmages. He also will be refining the roles of players, but most importantly he wants to see work ethic.
“As long as we have compete and effort, we can walk away with our heads held high,” Petrich said. “I think that’s what the town wants to see as well.”
Weeks said players are looking forward to hitting someone on another team for a change. He said bleachers are being brought in from a baseball field to accommodate fans.
“Fairbanks is a good team,” Weeks said. “They have a lot of guys coming back. It will be intense for the new guys, and even the guys coming back will get a chance to remember what a North American Hockey League game is all about.”