Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich has called for a greater sense of urgency from the coaching staff all the way through the players.
The Bears enter a critical portion of their schedule tonight and Saturday, when they host the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
At 10-22-1-1, Kenai River sits in last place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with 22 points. Coulee, at 9-15-1-5, is just two points ahead of the Bears in fifth place.
Just four from the division make the playoffs, though. The Minnesota Magicians hold that last playoff spot with 35 points. With 26 games left in the season, time is running short for a playoff push.
“The playoffs start this Friday,” Petrich said. “We have to treat every night as a playoff game. Because of the ground we have to make up, that’s the position we are in.”
The Bears are on a six-game losing streak, with their last victory coming at Coulee Region on Dec. 9. Kenai River was in prime position to snap the drought Saturday, taking a 3-1 advantage into the final 10 minutes of a game at the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks. But Johnstown dominated the final 10 minutes and skated away with a 4-3 win.
Petrich watched the video on the plane ride home and called a team meeting to emphasize two things.
First, just because defensive lapses don’t lead to goals doesn’t mean they are not defensive lapses.
“On two of the goals, we had watched video before the game from Friday when we made the same mistake,” Petrich said. “To be successful, we have to start to execute as a group more.”
Petrich also said the Bears can’t fall into the trap of riding a hot line for a period or a game.
“To be a successful program moving forward, we have to have 20 guys every night on the same page with similar effort and similar execution,” Petrich said.
The coach said the Bears have improved on recent areas of focus like getting a better start to the game and killing penalties, so he believes they show similar improvement with defensive execution and a more consistent effort.
“Meetings are only as good as the results after them,” Petrich said. “Friday and Saturday will be the show of that. We hope for great fan and community support, and we hope to start getting better home results.”
Bears notes: Nic Griebenow, who has three assists in 18 games, returns to the team after an upper body injury. Griebenow last played on Nov. 25. …
Kenai Central product Ross Hanson continues to be out with a wrist injury. Petrich said he hopes Hanson is cleared to return in the next few weeks. …
The Brown Bears and Ice Dogs have officially announced where they will play each other March 23 and 24. The March 23 game will be played at the MTA Events Center in Palmer, while the Saturday game will be at the O’Malley Ice Center in South Anchorage. Both games start at 7:30 p.m.
The Brown Bears and Ice Dogs are trying to showcase the NAHL in those two markets in an effort to create two more teams in Alaska, greatly decreasing travel costs.
“With the loss of the Alaska Aces, and previous former NAHL Alaska Avalanche, we thought the timing was perfect for a weekend of junior A hockey in these cities,” Brown Bears general manager Nate Kiel wrote in a press release.