Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Dennis Westergard makes a save against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Brown Bears goalie Dennis Westergard makes a save against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Series preview: Brown Bears vs. Springfield Jr. Blues

The Kenai River Brown Bears and Springfield (Illinois) Jr. Blues will be looking to snap out of recent funks when they meet Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in North American Hockey League play.

The Bears, who start a seven-game homestand, are 8-7-0-1, good for fourth place with 17 points in a tight Midwest Division. Fairbanks is third with 18 points, Janesville (Wisconsin) is second with 19 points and the Minnesota Magicians are in first with 24 points. Springfield is in fifth with 13 points.

The Brown Bears had been in first place in the Midwest before hitting a 1-4-0-1 rough patch. Last weekend, Kenai River lost 3-1 and 5-2 to the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays in what head coach Josh Petrich called the team’s worst performance of the season.

“Last weekend was the first time I looked out there and said, ‘Wow. We’re not playing well,’” Petrich said. “Through success comes contentment. Elite teams don’t do that. They don’t take the weekend off.”

The big question now is how the team responds, especially returning to home ice.

“Last week we got punched in the face,” Petrich said. “We’re going to find out who really wants it and who doesn’t.”

Springfield is on a four-game losing streak. In late September, the Bears played at the Blues and won 3-2 in overtime before losing 3-2.

Petrich said Jr. Blues forward Brandon Puricelli leads the team with 10 goals and presents problems when he is on the ice. The coach added fellow forward Nikita Kozyrev finds the big sheet at the sports complex to his liking.

Forward Zach Krajnik of Eagle River leads the Bears with 15 points, but after that three of the next four leading scorers for the team are defensemen. Markuss Komuls and JJ Boucher each have 13 points, while Connor Scahill has nine. Forward Michael Spethmann has 12 and leads the team with seven goals.

“It’s great for those three, but it’s a concerning piece for our forwards,” Petrich said. “It shows the defensemen are doing a good job getting pucks to the net, but obviously the forwards aren’t getting to the net and scoring.”

Petrich said special teams also will be a key to the series. The Bears are second in the league on the power play, while the Jr. Blues are 17th. On the penalty kill, Springfield is 10th and Kenai River is 22nd.

“Special teams is such a big part of our game right now,” Petrich said.

Bears notes: Metalizing Inc. is the VIP on Friday, while Saturday will have fans judging pumpkins carved by the Bears and a Skate with the Bears after the game.

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