In extremely tough times, Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton is pleased that his team has kept working hard with the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill headed to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex for 7:30 p.m. games today and Saturday.
The Bears (10-38-2-0) are on an 11-game losing streak that has knocked them out of the North American Hockey League playoff picture. The team also has announced it will go inactive at the end of this season, leaving the players and coaches with an uncertain future.
Including this weekend’s game, Kenai River has just seven home games left — and 10 games overall — to cap a 10-year run on the Kenai Peninsula.
Worlton said his team remains dedicated to getting the most out of those 10 games.
He said an example came in last Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Magicians at the sports complex.
“Last Saturday they were up 5-0 and we pulled the goalie and you would have thought it was a one-goal game,” Worlton said. “We worked to get that one goal and ruin the shutout.
“I don’t think any of the guys have quit. They’re still working hard and trying to win games.”
Worlton said that has carried over into practice this week.
“We haven’t changed our mentality as a coaching staff with the recent news,” he said. “It’s hard for players at any level to not put in the same amount of work when they see coaches they respect still putting in the same amount of work.
“Practices have been good and energy has been high.”
That Coulee Region’s energy will be high is a given. The Chill, who are 2-0 against the Bears this season, are five points out of a playoff spot in the Midwest Division with 14 games yet to play.
“They’re a very offensive-minded team,” Worlton said. “They want the first one to 10 wins.
“They want to turn the game into a track meet and we’re not really built that way. I’m interested to see what they’ll do on the bigger ice sheet with that offensive talent.”
Kenai River’s problems on the ice lately have coincided with struggles on defense. The Bears have given up four or more goals in the last eight games. In the 13 games before that, Kenai River allowed the opposition to get to four or more goals once.
“We have to refocus on defense and we’ve done that this week,” Worlton said. “We’ve spent more time working on blocking shots and revisiting details in the defensive zone.”
Worlton said everyone on the roster is ready to go this weekend, with no injuries or suspensions in effect.