Series preview: Brown Bears vs. Ice Dogs

Six Kenai River Brown Bears will play their final home series at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex today and Saturday.

And the six would love nothing more than to throw a wrench into the rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs’ path to hang on to the Robertson Cup when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both nights.

The Bears, at 15-39-2, will miss the playoffs. But Fairbanks is in a tense battle for the top spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division and home-ice advantage throughout the division round.

Fairbanks (37-15-4) is tied with the Minnesota Wilderness (36-13-6) for 78 points. The Wilderness have five games left, while the Ice Dogs have four left — all against Kenai River.

“They know they have an opportunity to come in and try and earn home-ice advantage through the divisional round of the playoffs,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Our plan is to stop them.”

The Ice Dogs have been dominant against the Brown Bears this season, holding an 11-1 record in the series. The Bears’ only win came back on Sept. 13.

Fairbanks has averaged 5.4 goals per game against Kenai River, but the Bears have been better on defense of late, giving up 13 goals in the last six games.

“They’re a team that moves the puck well and they put four lines out that pose a threat offensively,” Beauparlant said. “Where they’re somewhat underrated is how well they play defense and create a lot of opportunities out of their defensive zone.”

To varying degrees, the six Brown Bears at the end of their junior eligibility — Gustav Berglund, Tyler Andrews, Alex Jackstadt, Joseph Kaszupski, Zack Zulkanycz and Evan Hauser — are all too familiar with the Dogs’ abilities.

“Our 94s have done a great job, especially of late, playing the way we’ve expected them to play,” Beauparlant said. “They’re a big reason those statistics, like goals against, have gotten better.

“It shows character that the guys didn’t lie down because we are out of the playoffs.”

Kenai Central product Zulkanycz, East High product Jackstadt and Dimond High product Andrews will likely play together for the last time in Southcentral Alaska. Zulkanycz has played for the Bears for 2 1/2 years and if he plays in each of the remaining four games against Fairbanks, he will have a remarkable 50 games played against the Ice Dogs.

“These six guys put their blood, sweat and tears into junior hockey,” Beauparlant said. “In the end, they came out not only better players, but better people.

“They all make me proud as a coach.”

Evan Butcher remains out due to a broken jaw, but Cameron Cook will return from injury for the Bears.

Notes: A pair of Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association teams will be honored this weekend during second intermissions. Friday, the U-14 Tier II girls team that won the Pacific District to earn a spot at nationals gets honored. Saturday, the KPHA Squirt Minor team that won the Alaska State Hockey Association State Tournament gets honored. …

Friday’s sponsor is Kenai Peninsula Harley-Davidson. …

Sunday will be the Feed the Bears fundraiser at the sports complex. Tickets are available at the Bears Den or by calling the office at 262-7825. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children. …

The Bears have used their final tender on Jake Cox of the NA3HL. Beauparlant said he has actually known Cox for about five years and used to train him when he was 10 or 11 years old.

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