The setting will be different, but the song remains the same.
The Kenai River Brown Bears are going to have to be really good this weekend to keep up with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
The two squads play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the MTA Events Center in Palmer and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the O’Malley Ice Center in Anchorage.
Fairbanks, at 43-6-3-3, is the top team in the league with 92 points, with the Shreveport (Louisiana) Mudbugs next at 85.
Kenai River, at 15-37-1-2, is last in the league with 33 points, with the Topeka (Kansas) RoadRunners being second worst at 36 points.
But the Brown Bears have been able to inflict as much damage to the Ice Dogs’ record as anyone, going 2-5 against their rivals this season, with those two victories coming in overtime.
With the two games this weekend and then three to close the season in Fairbanks the following weekend, the Bears are still alive in the hunt for the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle between the two teams.
Taking that first Cup will be a monumental task. Fairbanks has five of the top 13 scorers in the league. Samuel Ruffin leads the way with 20 goals and 36 assists, good for 56 points that are third in the league.
Fairbanks goalies Logan Neaton and Josh Benson are third and fourth in the league in goals-against average at 1.76 and 1.85, respectively.
“It starts with a veteran group,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said of the success of the Ice Dogs. “They’ve got a couple of three-year guys back and a lot of two-year guys back.
“Their young guys have filled in and competed well. Their goaltending is solid and that’s always a must if you’re going to be a playoff- or championship-caliber team.”
Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart is in his seventh season with the team and has led the organization to two of its three Robertson Cup titles.
“They have the culture, and they’ve created an atmosphere that’s pretty impressive,” Petrich said.
Petrich has studied the culture of the Ice Dogs and worked on creating something similar on the Kenai Peninsula. The big difference is experience. Of the 23 on the Bears roster, 17 are rookies.
“Most of them are getting near the 100-game mark in the North American Hockey League,” Petrich said of the Ice Dogs. “They’re a little more comfortable and you’re seeing the success come out.”
The Kenai River head coach said one of the hallmarks of the Ice Dogs is getting off to quick start. Once Fairbanks gets up a few goals, the other team starts pressing and blowouts ensue.
“The first thing we have to do is weather the storm of the first 10 minutes,” Petrich said. “In our two wins, we’ve been able to weather the storm early.”