The playoff plight of the Kenai River Brown Bears was neatly summed up last weekend.
The Bears entered the weekend 14 points behind the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill for the fourth playoff spot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division and proceeded to put on a sterling performance against the Aston (Pennsylvania) Rebels, who are third in the league in points.
Kenai River topped Aston 4-1 on Friday before leading in the third period but losing 3-2 on Saturday.
After all that, the Bears were still 14 points behind Coulee, which also split a weekend series.
So as the Northeast (Massachusetts) Generals and their one win this season come to town for 7:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, the Bears have no room for error.
“We feel we have to win both games,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “We feel we have to start winning the weekends, whether that’s getting three of four points or winning both games.
“I think making the playoffs is doable, if we get more consistent.”
Consistency will be tested this weekend. After skating with one of the league’s top teams last weekend, the Bears (9-26-2-0) face a different challenge this weekend with the first-year Generals (1-33-3-0).
“One thing we’ve been focused on is playing up to the standards set by the coaching staff,” Worlton said. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing. We need to worry about ourselves.”
Worlton said the Generals are better than their record shows. Kenai River topped the Generals 2-1 in overtime and 4-3 in Massachusetts. Worlton said the Generals are fast skaters and will present a challenge on the big ice sheet of the sports complex.
“We’d better play up to the standard of last weekend, or better, or we’ll be in trouble,” Worlton said.
The team put on a display of great defensive zone play against the Rebels. Now Worlton said his young squad must take steps to get more players involved in the offensive zone.
“We need to get scoring from everybody, and that’s the growing pains of a maturing team,” Worlton said.
Preston Weeks, a defenseman from Soldotna, got involved in the attack more last weekend and racked up two assists each night to improve his point total on the season to five.
Weeks, 17 and 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, was named the Second Star of the Week in the Midwest Division for the performance.
“He struggled at the start of the year, but he’s really turned the corner,” Worlton said. “He makes us better and I believe he has a bright future.”
Anchorage product Evan Butcher was given honorable mention in the Midwest Division after two goals and an assist against the Rebels raised his totals to eight goals and 10 assists this season.
“As a coaching staff, we’re challenging Butch to play heavier and have more of a grit to his game,” Worlton said. “Not only be better defensively, but play heavier, and he took that challenge.”
The coach also credited defenseman Sam Sterne for blocking a lot of shots last weekend, and the whole team for sticking with the project despite the rough start to the season.
“That’s the thing about these kids on the team this year, they’ve done a good job of checking their egos at the door and adopting the culture that we as a coaching staff set down,” Worlton said.