Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich saw something recently on the NHL Network that struck a chord.
“It said in the NHL good teams play hard every shift, but great teams play hard for each other every shift,” Petrich said as his squad prepares for 7:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets.
The sentiment brought Petrich to the waning moments of Friday’s 4-0 victory over the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel at the sports complex. The Steel were clearly beaten. Team is important, but it’s also no secret players are in the league to get Division I scholarships. Why not go out of system and try to pad the stats a little?
“With five minutes to go, the chatter on the bench was, ‘Let’s get the shutout for Gavin,’” Petrich said of goalie Gavin Enright. “(Zach) Krajnik told the young guys that when they got the puck, get it deep and get to work.
“Those are messages the coaching staff has been preaching, but now the players are starting to preach it.”
The shutout, the first in 2 1-2 years for Enright, was a major reason he earned the North American Hockey League Midwest Division Star of the Week.
“They knew I wanted the shutout,” Enright said after the game. “I fought for them and they fought for me. That’s what we have this year.”
The Bears enter the Jets series at 7-3-0-0, good for first place in the Midwest. The Jets are 5-5-0-0, fresh off a split in Fairbanks against the Ice Dogs.
Kenai River ruined Janesville’s home-opening weekend on Sept. 14 and 15 with 5-2 and 7-3 victories.
“They’re gonna have a lot of hate,” Petrich said of the Jets. “They’re not happy with what we did on their home-opening weekend and they’re going to want to repay us on home ice.”
Petrich said the Jets have added three players from the United States Hockey League, the top junior league in the country, since the last time the two clubs faced off. The Jets have a tradition of excellence under Gary Shuchuk and assistant Corey Leivermann.
“They’re very well-coached by Gary and Corey, and they have veteran players with good leadership,” Petrich said. “We have to be ready for two hard games.”
Petrich said he loved the way all of his lines contributed to wearing down the Steel physically and mentally. He said he received a text from a Bears fan that made him smile.
“It basically said that Brown Bears fans don’t expect the team to win every home game, but they do expect every team wants to run out of the door because they’re tired of physically being beaten up,” Petrich said. “That’s a good way to sum it up.”
This will be breast cancer weekend, with jersey auctions between periods. Petrich said his mother-in-law battled breast cancer last year. Alana Letizia, wife of Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks head coach Mike Letizia, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I talked to the boys and said we’re here to play hockey but we’re also here to learn life lessons,” Petrich said. “There’s not one kid who doesn’t have a family member or a family friend in a fight with cancer.”