Kenai River faces a challenge in playing the first-place Avalanche on Thursday and Friday night at the Soldotna Sports Center, but it is what comes next that will really add to the hardship. Game times are 7:05 p.m Thursday and 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The team will pack up and leave early Saturday morning for Fresno, Calif., to face the Monsters, who are in a close battle with the Brown Bears in the West Division of the North American Hockey League. It will mark the start of a seven-game road trip that includes games at Wenatchee (Wash.) and Dawson Creek (British Columbia).
The Bears, currently sitting with an 18-13-1 record with 37 points, are fifth in the division, which is not good enough for a playoff spot. The good news, however, is that they have played the least amount of games, two less than any other team in the division. This puts them in good position to leapfrog Fresno and Wenatchee in the standings; that is, if they win.
“We’re in a battle, and points are at a premium,” head coach Oliver David said. “Any good work we can do this weekend will be satisfactory.
“We go right out, and if we’re successful in these next two games, even a split, that would be satisfactory. Anything more would be a bonus. We obviously set out to win each game but looking at matchups and scenarios, in our division if you can earn points in a series, it is crucial.”
The Bears face Fresno on Sunday and Monday, which adds up to four games in five days.
“We basically go head-to-head with a team we are neck-and-neck with for a playoff spot,” David said.
“We will depart Saturday morning at 9 a.m., and travel all day by bus to Anchorage, then get on a plane from Anchorage to Seattle, Seattle to Fresno, and we will be in at 11 p.m. Pacific time. Then, we wake up at 7 a.m. Sunday for a pregame skate and play that day.
“We’ve never had to prepare for this scenario, so this is the first time in three seasons we’ve had to play a series, then fly out for another series in that amount of time.”
The turnaround time for the team is short, and Saturday will be a crucial day for the team. David said if the Brown Bears can stay relaxed and rested, they should be ready.
“The message to the team is start preparing, get good sleep, and if they’ve taken care of themselves, come Sunday we’ll have some energy to play,” he said. “We’re used to playing back-to-back nights, but if guys don’t take care of themselves, then we will have a rough road trip.”
The two players on the injured list, Miikael Arkimo and Nick O’Donnell, have different timetables on returning to the team. Both have been sidelined due to concussion symptoms.
O’Donnell had been placed on the injured list for 45 days, and was taken off the list Tuesday, but David said he has not recovered at all, and will return home to Colorado for the time being.
“If he makes the strides he needs to make, we will pick him up at a later date,” David said.
Arkimo skated Tuesday for the first time in a light practice, and will accompany the team on the road trip.
The Bears also acquired forward Marek Hemsky from the Czech Republic.
“He has skated with us for two days, and we picked him up to fill our last import spot,” David said.
“The international trade deadline is January 15th. We signed him and he is a very nice young man, and we think he will be an asset.”