Series preview: Brown Bears vs. Chill

It’s the growing, and not the pains, on which Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant is focused as the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill come to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for games today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“Our inexperience is showing, but it’s going to come,” Beauparlant said. “I’m excited about where we’re headed as a group.

“The guys have great chemistry and they’ve been working. As much as our fans and staff want us to get out of this, nobody wants to get out of this more than the players.”

The Bears are a league-worst 1-18-0, with 16 straight losses and 16 straight games without a point serving as franchise highs.

The Chill are right above the Bears in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with a 5-10-0 record. Four teams make the playoffs out of the Midwest, so both the Bears (two points) and Chill (10 points) need to get moving if they are to catch the fourth-place Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets (18 points).

“Coulee is always well-coached with speed and solid goaltending,” Beauparlant said. “We have to be prepared for that challenge, but at the same time we need to be focused on what we need to do.”

Beauparlant said a good example of the team the Bears can be came Saturday night, when they led Fairbanks 2-1 after the second period, but ended up losing 3-2.

The coach said that rookies in the NAHL have a lot less time and space than they did at their last level of play. He said trying to do too much with that limited time and space is costly. He said players are learning that.

“We saw that Saturday night against Fairbanks,” Beauparlant said. “We just need to keep things simple.

“No one in this league on any team is going to take his team on his back. Even the best teams in the league don’t have just one guy. It’s a cohesive team unit that gets the job done.”

While the start of the season has been disappointing, Beauparlant said there is a flip side to playing so many young players.

“What’s made our staff excited, and what should make our fans excited, is the number of first-year players playing a lot of minutes and getting experience,” Beauparlant said. “Teams like that continually progress and improve instead of staying stagnant.”

Cam Cook, the third-leading scorer on the team, continues to be out with a shoulder injury. Defenseman Oleg Khalemin also is not done with his tryout for the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.

But everybody else on the team is ready to go, including new addition Collin Appleton. The Bears traded a tender to the Chill to acquire Appleton, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“He was looking to play a bigger role as a younger guy,” Beauparlant said of the 18-year-old. “We like him. He skates with good sense, awareness, he’s got a good release and he likes to use his body.

“We’re excited to see where he can go.”

Appleton played five games without a point last season in the Tier I United States Hockey League. He has two assists in 12 games this season for the Chill.

Bears notes: Beauparlant had positive things to say about the performance of affiliate player Preston Weeks of Soldotna on Saturday and Sunday.

Weeks, just 16, is a 6-2, 205-pound defenseman. He plays with the AAA Pikes Peak Miners in Colorado.

“He did what he was taught to do and didn’t try too much fancy stuff,” Beauparlant said. “I thought he was very effective.”

Beauparlant said he is open to getting Weeks more games with the Bears if it can be coordinated with Pikes Peak. …

The Bears have tendered their first two players for next season, signing forward Zach Shapiro and defenseman Alex Armstrong of Detroit Compuware of the High Performance Hockey League, which Beauparlant said is the top Tier I AAA league in the country. The league produced current Bears captain Jack Gessert. …

It will be Alaska USA Federal Credit Union Military Appreciation Weekend tonight and Saturday, with turkey bowling between periods.

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