The Kenai River Brown Bears will look to turn around a lopsided series with the rival Fairbanks Ice Dogs tonight and Saturday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both nights.
The Dogs, the defending Robertson Cup champions, are 9-1 against the Bears this year, with Kenai River’s lone win coming back on Sept. 13. That means the Fairbanks squad has already clinched the Ravn Alaska Cup.
And most of the victories by Fairbanks have been dominant, with the Ice Dogs winning by an average of four goals.
“We have to find ways to overcome the mental block we have with the Ice Dogs,” Kenai River head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “It’s important that we had a good week of practice and are focused and worked hard.”
If the Brown Bears are going to make the playoffs, they most likely are going to have to find a way to get some points against Fairbanks.
Kenai River is 13-31-2, which leaves the Bears three points behind the Minnesota Magicians in the battle for the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division.
The Magicians have 15 games left, while the Bears have 14. Six of those games are against the Ice Dogs, including four of the eight home contests.
Fairbanks (30-13-3) has no reason to let off the gas because it sits one point behind the Minnesota Wilderness for first in the division.
The Bears have lost five straight since taking two of three from the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill.
In a 3-1 loss to Fairbanks on Saturday, Beauparlant said the Bears put together the effort needed to be successful against Fairbanks.
“I think it’s a matter of us putting 60 minutes together, and I thought we did that Saturday night,” Beauparlant said.
The coach said goaltending and special teams will be key in the series. While both teams kill penalties at a relatively even rate, the Dogs are eighth in the league on the power play while the Bears are 23rd.
In that Saturday game in Fairbanks, forward Evan Butcher, the Anchorage product who had three goals and nine assists in 36 games, broke his jaw in two places.
Beauparlant said Butcher will be out six to 10 weeks, meaning an optimistic goal for his return would be the playoffs.
The injury happened the day after the trade deadline and roster freeze, so the Bears will be a player short on their roster.
Before the roster freeze, the Bears added 5-foot-11, 180-pound Jeff Solow on defense. His addition comes after the Bears traded Ben Campbell and released Will Schwartz.
“We really like his mobility,” Beauparlant said of Solow. “He’s intense in practice and he defends well off the rush. He moves the puck cleanly and he’s a guy the guys have really embraced.”
Notes: Former Brown Bears player Kris Oldham, who is from Anchorage, has announced he has committed to Division I University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Oldham currently plays for the Omaha Lancers of the Tier I United States Hockey League, where he has an 11-4-3 record with a 2.71 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.
Oldham made his debut for the Bears at the age of 15 as an affiliate player in March 2013.
The debut was a memorable 7-5 win over the Wenatchee (Washington) Wild.
Last season, Oldham had an 11-6-4 record for the Bears, with a 3.17 goals-against average and .901 save percentage.
Oldham is the second Brown Bears player with a Division I commitment, joining University of Alaska Anchorage commit Alex Jackstadt. …
Saturday’s game sponsor will be Kelci’s Kloset.