The Kenai River Brown Bears return to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex looking to snap a five-game losing streak in North American Hockey League play.
The Bears face the Maine Nordiques at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday in their first home action since Dec. 7.
Kenai River lost its last game before the break — a 5-4 shootout decision to the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets — then struggled in the four games since the break.
The Bears gave up a total of 25 goals in losing two each to the Amarillo (Texas) Bulls and New Mexico Ice Wolves.
The skid has knocked the Bears out of first place in the Midwest Division. Fairbanks now leads with 55 points, while Kenai River (22-12-1-3) has 48. The Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel sit in third with 40 points.
The race for the final playoff slot out of the division is tight. The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets and Minnesota Magicians are tied for fourth with 27 points, while the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues are last at 25.
”I think everybody is happy to be back up here,” Kenai River head coach Kevin Murdock said. “The couple of weeks after the break didn’t go so well.”
The Bears only had one practice after break before jumping into the series with Amarillo — a squad Murdock called one of the best, if not the best, in the league.
Then the Bears dropped two to New Mexico, which now sits at 8-25-1-2.
“The last two weekends, there were moments we played pretty well,” Murdock said. “There were too many mistakes and breakdowns that weren’t happening in the first half.”
The coach said that the successful first half may have let the team slip into bad habits because the focus was on wins and not just getting better.
“On the 10-game winning streak, I don’t think we deserved to win all 10 of those games,” Murdock said. “We were making mistakes, and other teams were not capitalizing. We were capitalizing on their mistakes.
“We were worrying about winning every single game, not guys playing the right way, developing and getting ready for the second half of the season.”
Murdock said the Bears are getting back to basics this week in practice with the aim of correcting the problem.
The Brown Bears dropped 3-2 and 6-4 decisions to Maine on the road on Oct. 25 and 26. The expansion Nordiques are 15-22-2-0 and in fifth place in the East Division.
Like Kenai River, Maine games tend to be high-scoring. The Bears are second in the league with 144 goals, but have given up 128 goals, tied for fifth-most in the league. Maine has scored 135 goals and given up 158.
“They have a lot of fast, skilled guys similar to some of the teams in our division,” Murdock said. “I think they’ll do pretty well on the big sheet of ice.”
The Brown Bears made a move to shore up their defense by bringing back defenseman Connor Scahill. Scahill, at 6-foot-0, 187 pounds, played with the Brown Bears for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons before leaving for the Odessa (Texas) Jackalopes this season. Odessa has the worst record in the league.
After playing two seasons with the Bears and missing the playoffs, Murdock said Scahill was looking to go to a team that might be more successful, but with Odessa struggling, Scahill was open to a move back to Kenai River.
“He’s a tough kid and an older guy in the league,” Murdock said. “He’ll provide some more veteran experience on the back end. We’re getting kind of old back there and that isn’t a bad thing.”
Scahill was a forward before coming to the NAHL and the Brown Bears, so he also provides offensive pop. He had nine goals and 12 assists in 58 games for Kenai River last season.
The Bears also announced on their Facebook page they had acquired Max Osborne. Osborne, of Anchorage, also is in his last year of junior eligibility.
The first 400 fans in the gate Friday will receive a free Alaska Airlines rally towel. A Skate with the Bears will be held after Saturday’s game.