Brown Bears rotate roster in playoff pursuit

Desperation time is beginning to set in for the Kenai River Brown Bears, but head coach Josh Petrich said the mind-set remains the same.

“It’s do or die,” Petrich said Wednesday. “We’ve got to be perfect to go the rest of the way.”

The Brown Bears are hosting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights for a pair of 7:30 p.m. puck drops today and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, and are in desperate need of points while in the midst of a six-game losing skid. Kenai River (12-27-1-2) is currently sitting last in the six-team Midwest Division with 27 points, five behind fifth-place Coulee Region (Wisconsin) and 15 behind fourth-place Springfield (Illinois), the last playoff spot.

With 18 games left in their season, the Bears need to make up that 15-point gap.

The organization’s bid to rally for a postseason spot began this week with a few roster changes. The Bears engaged in a three-way trade this week that sent their top scorer, forward Luke Radetic, to the Philadelphia Rebels.

Philly got Radetic while the Bears got Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats forward and Anchorage native Lukas Millen and assets. Radetic has notched 40 points (22 goals, 18 assists) for Kenai River this year, while the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Millen comes in with 21 points (nine goals, 12 assists) in 39 games for the Bobcats. Millen played for the Alaska All-Stars club team in Anchorage before his NAHL career.

Petrich said the calculated move was made to help prepare the organization for a brighter future.

“It’s a move that has secured us not only for this year but the next year,” Petrich explained. “We consulted with (Radetic) and moved him to Philadelphia, and while it hurts that we lost Luke and we wish him nothing but the best of luck, the deal was just too good to say no to.”

Radetic had an immediate impact with the Rebels in a 3-2 shootout victory Wednesday over the New Jersey Titans, netting the game-winner in the shootout.

The Bears also released forward Nic Griebenow in order to make room for Kenai Central product Ross Hanson, who was recently cleared to return from injured reserve after breaking a bone in his wrist in early December. Griebenow had three assists in 19 games for Kenai River.

“It’s not us waving a white flag by any means, but I have to be educated in our impact right now,” Petrich said. “For us to be competitive next year, we’re talking about a future and talking about sustainability.”

Since a two-game weekend sweep over Midwest Division opponent Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Jan. 12 and 13, the Bears have stumbled to six straight losses. Petrich said the team is focused on finishing out games, after dropping two-goal leads in four of the six losses.

“We’ve dug ourselves a hole, but we’re excited to get back in front of the best fans in the league,” he said. “It sounds redundant, but this league is so tough, and if you give teams a little bit of room, they run with it.

“We need a ‘step on the throat’ mentality.”

Last weekend, the Bears took a 2-0 lead over the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday before giving up six unanswered goals in a 6-2 loss. Petrich said the Bears were dominating the shots count as well before the collapse, which began with a Janesville power play that injected new life into the home team.

“I told the team you’re going to get everything in the first five minutes (of the second period) and if you can weather the storm, we’ll be fine,” Petrich recalled. “They didn’t and it went downhill from there.

“By all means, we’ve had our chances.”

Kenai River lost by a combined score of 10-3 in a pair of losses to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in late December, but Petrich is eyeing the assumption that every team in the league is a different entity, including the Bears.

“I like where our team is at,” he said. “We’re 2-5-1 in our last eight, but I think we’ve played some of our best hockey in that time, and don’t forget we’ve played some of the best teams in that stretch.”

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