Both the Kenai River Brown Bears and the Fairbanks Ice Dogs will look to snap lengthy losing streaks when the two teams face off this weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The North American Hockey League games are 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday.
The Ice Dogs are 7-11-2-1, but have lost eight straight. Their last win was a 4-1 triumph over the Bears on Oct. 22.
The Brown Bears are 1-16-2-0 and the losers of six straight. Their lone win of the season was Oct. 29 against the Minnesota Magicians.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get on the winning side,” Kenai River head coach Jeff Worlton said. “They’re struggling and we’re struggling.”
Normally, the Ice Dogs are the last team Kenai River wants to face when struggling. The Brown Bears, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary season, are 34-109-4-3 all-time, including playoffs, against Fairbanks.
Fairbanks is the top franchise in the league right now, with Robertson Cups in 2011, 2014 and 2016 to show for it.
And a good deal of that has been due to offensive firepower. Since the 2008-09 season, Fairbanks has been out of the top five in the league in goals scored just once, and led the league in goals in 2010-11, 2013-14 and 2015-16.
But this season, only two teams have scored less than the Ice Dogs, one of them being the Brown Bears.
“They’re a good team,” Worlton said. “They’re going to come in here and try and win and run it up as best they can.
“Every team goes through slumps. They’re going through theirs and we’re going through ours.”
Fairbanks leads the Ravn Alaska Cup, the seasonlong battle for supremacy between Alaska’s junior teams, 2-0. The Ice Dogs have won the cup each time since it was started in 2012-13.
“The Ravn Cup is a big deal,” Worlton said. “We want to win some games at home, be able to beat Fairbanks, and make a run at the Ravn Cup.
“But they’re the Ice Dogs. They’re down but never out.”
The Bears have steadily improved in all facets of the game lately, but one area is clearly holding them back and leaving no margin for error, and that’s scoring five-on-five. Kenai River has just 11 five-on-five goals in 19 games.
“We’re generating nice scoring opportunities,” Worlton said. “But we put it in the goalie’s chest or overskate and don’t stop in front of the net.
“We need to relax and things will come if we slow down a bit.”
Worlton also said his squad needs to stay out of the penalty box, because the Ice Dogs’ power play was key in a two-game sweep in Fairbanks.
Despite two tough, one-goal losses last weekend, Worlton said his team continues to work hard.
“As far as I can see, the attitude is positive and the energy is high,” he said. “I do see us getting better.
“When you’re struggling, it’s easy to quit. But they keep getting better and keep pushing.”
The Bears have made one roster move, cutting defenseman Connor Nilson of Fairbanks and bringing in Mike Curran of Anchorage as an affiliate player. Curran was playing Tier III hockey in Texas and previously skated for West High.