Series preview: Brown Bears vs. Ice Miners

The Kenai River Brown Bears face the Keystone Ice Miners tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in a two-game series crucial to the Bears’ playoff chances.

The Brown Bears (14-34-2) are five points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the race for the final playoff spot out of the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.

The Bears have 10 games remaining, including four at home, while the Magicians have 12 games left, including seven at home.

“We’re not going to catch the Magicians in one game, or even two for that matter,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “Our goal is to get a point or two and slowly creep back.

“We know there’s not a lot of time, and that will mean more urgency in our players and our systems.”

Saturday, the Bears snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 6-5 overtime victory over the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks. Kenai River had led 5-1 in the second period.

The Bears had lost to the Tomahawks 3-1 on Friday due to a great game by goalie Ryan Bednard, who helped the NAHL Selects beat Team USA 17U 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday at the Top Prospects Tournament.

Like the Tomahawks, Beauparlant said the Ice Miners can sit back and play defense until a great opportunity arises.

“We have to stay patient and stick with what works,” Beauparlant said. “I thought we did that for the most part Friday and we definitely did that Saturday until it unraveled a little bit.

“But the bulk of that Saturday was learning how to win, because we haven’t won so many.”

The Ice Miners are 24-19-5 and in third place in the North Division. Beauparlant said Tyler Fernandez, who has 31 points, can make great plays with the puck on his stick.

He also said goalies Alex Blankenburg and Nick Kossoff are solid. The Bears lost 5-2 and 3-2 in a shootout to the Ice Miners in Pennsylvania, and Beauparlant said Blankenburg stole that second game.

Beauparlant has been at the Top Prospects tournament with players Jack Gessert, Tyler Andrews, Maurin Bouvet and Tanner Schachle.

He said the players competed hard at the tournament and drew college attention. He also said assistants Rory Dynan and Joel Christianson ran the other players through their paces back home.

“The practices have been hard-working and there’s been a lot of battles even though we’ve been down a couple of guys,” Beauparlant said.

Kenai River will remain without the services of forward Evan Butcher, while forward Cameron Cook is day-to-day with a chest contusion.

Notes: This is parents’ weekend, with billet parents getting honored at the first intermission Friday and those parents in town getting honored during the first intermission Saturday. …

Saturday will be Stanley Ford night. The event will feature trucks on the ice and a T-shirt toss into the crowd.

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