The Kenai River Brown Bears continue to look for ways to turn around a 1-13-0 start to the North American Hockey League season as the Aston (Pennsylvania) Rebels come to town today and Saturday.
The puck drops on both nights at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
“We’re not defeated, that was the key word we used when talking to the team this week,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “We’re frustrated and ticked off, but we’re not defeated.
“That’s important. Once we reach that stage, a whole bigger change has to happen. The guys still believe, and that’s a big piece.”
The coach said the team, whose lone win came on Sept. 18 in the third game of the season, can build on a 4-1 loss to the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks on Saturday at the sports complex.
“That was one of our better games of the year,” Beauparlant said. “We competed for 60 minutes and had our chances to win.
“We had 18 chances. We need to score more than one goal.”
The Bears have given up a league-high 77 goals, with the second-highest goals against in the league coming in at 63. But Beauparlant said the team has improved defensively.
“We’re not giving up as many chances out of defensive zone coverage,” he said. “Most of our chances now have come off the power play and a line rush.
“Those odd-man rushes come when guys press at the wrong time and give up a chance they normally wouldn’t give up.”
Special teams remains a problem. In the two-game series against Johnstown, the Bears were 0 for 11 on the power play, while the Tomahawks were 4 for 14. Kenai River has the worst penalty kill in the league at 69.23 percent, and is seventh-worst on the power play, converting 14.04 percent of the time.
“It’s not clicking,” Beauparlant said. “We made a couple minor personnel changes last week, and we’ll make a couple more tomorrow, and see how it goes.
“It comes down to hard work.”
Aston is 8-5-0. Saturday, the Rebels handed the Fairbanks Ice Dogs their first home loss of the season.
The squad from Pennsylvania will definitely challenge the Bears as they look to get their offense fired up. Aston has the league’s No. 5 goalie in goals against with Darion Hanson at 1.78, and the No. 19 in goals against with Trevor Micucci at 2.42.
“What they do is similar to what Johnstown likes to do, but they play a more physical game than Johnstown,” Beauparlant said. “It’s going to be a battle.
“Not too many teams go to Fairbanks and beat them, and hold them to one goal.”
Beauparlant said forward Tanner Dufault will be back in the lineup. He hasn’t played since Sept. 26 due to a concussion.
“It’s the first time he will be in the lineup up here,” Beauparlant said. “He’s a player that brings intensity and hockey smarts.”
The coach said forward Gunnar Goodmanson has been taking steps forward and makes a nice pairing with Jack Gessert. Beauparlant added the Joey Sardina-Evan Butcher pairing also is showing promise and adding scoring depth.
Forward Jeff Fasegha will be back in the lineup after a one-game suspension.
The Bears won’t have Cam Cook due to a shoulder injury and Blake Carrick due to a concussion. Nick Klishko continues to be out with a wrist injury and isn’t expected back until the new year.
“I’m hoping we can get healthy and see what our lineup really looks like,” Beauparlant said.
Bears notes: Friday and Saturday will be the Monster Jersey Halloween Auction. The weekend is put on by Odom Corporation. Saturday, kids 12 and under dressed in a Halloween costume get in for free.
“We continue to be grateful to the community for supporting us,” Beauparlant said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed by the staff and players. They like the energy in the building.”