The resurgent Kenai River Brown Bears entered the Thanksgiving weekend with an unbeaten month of November and leading the North American Hockey League Midwest division.
After two losses against the last-place Minnesota Magicians offered a dose of reality, the Bears are hoping to get back to the win column in December, starting this weekend against the Janesville Jets.
Game times are Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. The series will be the last two home games the Bears play until Jan. 17, and head coach Kevin Murdock wants the Bears to make the most of it.
“I think it’s an opportunity for us to take a step back and reevaluate what we need to continue to work on as the season progresses,” Murdock said. “The 10-game win streak was nice but I don’t think we played necessarily to the best of our abilities — the puck took some nice bounces to get some wins.”
This weekend also caps off a 12-game homestand. The Bears are 8-2 during that stretch.
Murdock acknowledged the same strengths and weaknesses that the Bears have been showcasing all season. The team ranks second in the league in scoring, but also has a tendency to start fast before lapsing back into inconsistent play. Murdock said a lot of that comes down to the finer details such as puck management and offensive zone possession.
“I know I’m probably going to sound like a broken record, but we need the ability to play a full 60-minute game,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about some of those games, we had a few couple-goal leads that we’ve been giving up, and we’re turning games that we had three- or four-goal leads into one-goal games at the end of it.”
Murdock also noted that the Magicians were a better team than their record showed. Minnesota came into the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex with a nine-game losing skid and with only four wins out of 22 games this season, but Murdock said many of those games showed a team with flashes of talent. Minnesota has six losses in either overtime or a shootout this year.
With the Jets (fourth place in the Midwest division) coming to town, Murdock said he wants to leave with points in both games. Janesville is on a four-game losing skid themselves, and rank 15th in the league in scoring and 22nd in defense (goals allowed).
“I think they have a really good team, a young team that have fast skill players, which on our sheet of ice are the types of players that really thrive on that,” he said. “We need to tighten some things up and be ready to go for them.”
The team also welcomed the additions of forward Sullivan Mack and defenseman Sean Sullivan last Thursday. Both got time on ice last weekend with limited minutes.
The last week also presented the Bears the opportunity to give back to the community. Several Brown Bears players visited residents at Charis Place, an assisted living home in Kenai, where they treated residents with teddy bears to spread holiday cheer. The effort came after last Friday’s teddy bear toss for charity, in which hundreds of stuffed animals were thrown onto the ice following the team’s first goal of the game against Minnesota.
Tonight’s game against Janesville is Elementary Night, where elementary school age children get in free, accompanied by an adult. The Bears played up that theme this week with visits to area elementary schools.