Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Kevin Murdock is not as concerned with revenge as he is with consistency.
The Brown Bears face the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League play.
The Bears were on a roll the last time they faced the Steel. Kenai River had won four straight, and had just swept the Minnesota Magicians, before taking 8-2 and 5-0 pastings in Wisconsin on Oct. 4 and 5.
“The biggest thing for us is consistency,” Murdock said. “It’s been a bit of an issue. We were coming off a sweep of the Magicians and feeling good about ourselves.
“I’m not saying the guys necessarily took the weekend off, but they were a bit overconfident going into the weekend and struggled.”
The Bears are coming off a sweep of the Northeast (Massachusetts) Generals, but Murdock said he hopes his team doesn’t fall into the same trap this time.
These two games — the last time the Bears will see the Steel all season — loom important with a tight playoff race shaping up in the Midwest Division.
Fairbanks is in first with 23 points, while Kenai River (9-5-1-2) is in second with 21 and the Steel (10-4-0-0) are in third with 20. The Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues are fourth with 15, with Minnesota and the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets tied with 13.
“Chippewa has got a really good team this year, they have a lot of returning players,” Murdock said. “A year ago in their first year they probably didn’t meet their own expectations, but in that process they built a team at the end of last year more for this season.”
When the squads played in Wisconsin, Murdock said Chippewa had a top line with a combined eight years of experience in the NAHL. Connor Szmul, with three seasons, leads the team with 18 points, while Killian Kiecker-Olson has two years and 17 points, and Jacob Dirks has three years and 16 points.
The Steel had won eight straight before dropping 8-1 and 4-1 contests to the Aberdeen (South Dakota) Wings last weekend.
“They play a pretty fast, physical style, so it will be interesting to see how everything goes on a big sheet of ice,” Murdock said.
The Bears have acquired defenseman Tristan Culleton from the Jamestown (Pennsylvania) Rebels for assets. Murdock said the Bears have had a few defensemen out and have been down to six defensemen the last few weekends, so Culleton, in his last year of junior eligibility, should provide valuable experience.
Friday will be Military Appreciation Night, with free admission available with military ID. Saturday will be a postgame skate with the Bears.