With 14 rookies on the roster, Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich expects to be a lot better in the second half of the season than the first half of the season.
But in the standings, each game, no matter when it is played, counts the same.
So with five games against division foes coming up in the next 10 days on home ice, Petrich said it is not too early to utter the word “playoffs.”
The stretch starts with a 7 p.m. game against the Minnesota Magicians tonight at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex followed by 7:30 p.m. tilts against the Magicians on Friday and Saturday.
The Fairbanks Ice Dogs are then in town next weekend.
“I hate to say it this early, but these three games are a really big deal,” Petrich said. “It’s crazy to think this early in the season that games could have potential playoff implications, but that’s how tight this league is right now.”
Kenai River is currently 5-7-0-0, good for 10 points and fifth place in the Midwest Division. The Magicians, at 6-3-1-1, are in third with 14 points, while the 7-3-0-2 Ice Dogs are in second with 16 points. The Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets lead the division with 22 points.
The Magicians come into Soldotna hot after pulling four points out of Fairbanks last weekend.
“Similar to us, they’ve got a lot of great pieces but they are young and inexperienced with nothing to lose or hold back for,” Petrich said. “It’s go and go and go because they don’t know better, and that can be dangerous for the opposing team.”
The Magicians don’t have one of the league’s top power plays, penalty kills, scorers or goalies. They’ve scored 36 goals and given up 34. But they’ve turned that into a solid record and that’s what matters.
The Bears are fourth in the league in scoring, with Luke Radetic tied for 10th in the league with 14 points, and Gil Garcia and Luke Posner tied for 14th with 13 points. Kenai River also leads the league with 17 power-play goals.
Petrich said Anchorage netminder Isaiah Saville had a big weekend in Fairbanks, celebrating playing in his home state for the first time in several years.
“Having a hot goalie on the road makes your job a lot easier as a coach,” Petrich said. “If he’s in there Thursday, we’ll have to figure out a way to get pucks by him.”