The North American Hockey League does not break for Thanksgiving, but the Kenai River Brown Bears got the week of Thanksgiving off and took full advantage.
The Bears were one of two teams that did not have a game the week of Thanksgiving. Kenai River took the opportunity to give players the option of going home after the Nov. 20 game against the Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues and returning for practice Monday.
“The majority went home, but a few stayed up here to do a few things in town and pitch in and help out a bit,” Brown Bears interim head coach Taylor Shaw said.
Shaw said a few of the players helped out at a Nov. 21 youth skate and then helped make wreaths at Kenai Middle School the following week.
“When November hits and we’ve been going since August, I think at that point everybody needs a bit of rest,” Shaw said. “It worked out. Everybody got some rest and (Monday) was a great first day back.”
The Bears now have seven games before Christmas break hits Dec. 18.
Kenai River hosts the Anchorage Wolverines on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, then heads to Anchorage for a pair against the Wolverines on Dec. 10 and 11. Kenai River then plays the Jr. Blues in Illinois on Dec. 16, 17 and 18.
The Bears are 4-18-0-0 — the worst record in the league and last in the Midwest Division. Anchorage is tied for fourth in the Midwest at 13-8-1-0.
Kenai River is in the midst of a coaching transition. Before the Nov. 18, 19 and 20 series against the Jr. Blues, the Brown Bears parted ways with Josh Dubinsky and are currently searching for a new head coach.
Shaw, who joined the Bears as an assistant at the beginning of the season, is leading the team in the meantime.
“I think the biggest thing for them is the end goal doesn’t change,” Shaw said of the players. “They’re still here to get college commitments and at the end of the day the person leading the ship doesn’t put skates on.
“They understand. They’re young adults. They’ve been around the rink and come to the rink to do their job.”
Shaw said Dean Weasler will help on the bench the next few weeks. Weasler played in the Tier I United States Hockey League before moving on to a four-year career at St. Cloud State University.
He then saw some time in the ECHL before coaching Minnesota high school hockey until this season.
Shaw actually recruited Weasler’s son in his previous job with the Gillette (Wyoming) Wild of the NA3HL.
“He’s going to come out and help us get through the next couple of weeks,” Shaw said.
Shaw said the team had good energy in practice this week.
“For us, the little details matter,” Shaw said. “We are a super fast team but I think our record doesn’t show the hockey team we are. We have to be more consistent with the details.”
The weekend series against the Wolverines continues the Club 49 Cup, the seasonlong battle between Alaska’s NAHL teams — the Bears, Wolverines and Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
With two points for a win, one point for an overtime loss and no points for a loss, Fairbanks has 14, Anchorage has 8 and Kenai River has 2.
The Brown Bears are 1-3 against the Wolverines. Anchorage’s Talon Sigurdson leads the league with 20 goals, while goalie Raythan Robbins is third in the league with a 2.08 goals-against average. Robbins is 9-1-1-0 this season.
Shaw is very familiar with Sigurdson, because both are from Sartell, Minnesota.
“They are a team that competes, goes to work and are very well-coached on the details,” Shaw said. “We have to be ready to go right away and take the momentum with the fans ready to support us.”