Series preview: Brown Bears vs. Knights

The Kenai River Brown Bears haven’t had a week of practice like this all season.

More specifically, the Brown Bears haven’t had a week of practice following a win all season, with one exception.

Kenai River (4-48-3) did have one other Saturday win this season, but after the 4-2 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights on Jan. 9, then-head coach Geoff Beauparlant was removed after the game and travel problems coming back from the East Coast cut short the practice week.

So the Bears have been able to work this week after snapping a 17-game losing streak by defeating the New Jersey Titans 3-2 in overtime Saturday.

“Obviously, winning makes everything more enjoyable, getting out of bed, doing everything else,” head coach Jeff Worlton said. “When you feel good about your last game, it leads to a good week of practice.”

The Bears face the Knights today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

When the Bears last saw the Knights, they dropped the expansion club to 12-16-4. WBS is now 20-27-9 and will make the North American Hockey League playoffs because there are only four teams in the East Division.

The Knights showed just how tough they can be last weekend, when they defeated Fairbanks 4-3 on Friday and lost to the league’s top team 3-2 in overtime Saturday.

Looking at their season scores, the Knights have games here and there where they lose by a high goal total, but for the most part stick with every team in the league.

“I’ve noticed that trend, but I don’t know what goes on with their team,” Worlton said. “When they are playing well, their goaltending is playing really well.”

Worlton is more concerned with the trends of the Brown Bears, and that trend is getting more positive. The coach said the five defensemen — Connor Nilson, Jake Hartje, Preston Weeks, Davis Sebald and Richard Regala — were the deciding factor in Saturday’s game.

He said goalie Magnus Lindhe had a solid weekend, and Evan Butcher had six points over the weekend to up his total to 10 points in the last seven games.

“The guys are getting closer and closer to buying in,” he said. “More guys are buying in every day.

“The D corps played really well Saturday, Mags came in and shut down the door and made some key saves. When you have consistent play from your forwards and D corps, the forwards can bear down in the offensive zone and get more scoring chances.”

While the playoffs have long been out of the picture for the Bears, Worlton said these last five games of the season are still important.

“We’ve done a good job finding the guys and getting the guys to buy in,” Worlton said. “Getting everything going the right way was the key thing when we came in here.

“When we leave after two months, we wanted everything going the right way and the energy good so everyone is excited about the upcoming season.”

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