After a weekend spent hosting an Octoberfest event for the fans, attending an Alaska Aces game and holding a team pumpkin-carving contest (won by Conor Deal, for those keeping track), the Kenai River Brown Bears are ready to get back to business.
“Rest is completely underrated across the board,” Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. “With working out, we took some days off from lifting, and once the guys got back in the gym, they couldn’t wait to lift.
“Same with having down time last weekend. They couldn’t wait to get back on the ice. They can’t wait to play this weekend.”
The Bears host the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Wildcats are led by a familiar face to Bears fans and also are a team with a lot in common with Kenai River.
Paul Baxter, the former NHL defenseman and NHL assistant who coached the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild in the first two years and a half years of their existence, returns to the sports center as the head man of the Wildcats.
David said he has a ton of respect for Baxter, who instantly made the Wild one of the top organizations in the league.
“I’ve learned a lot from him,” David said. “When I first came into the league, he was very helpful. He was there for me when I had questions about the league.
“It’ll be fun to go up against him. He’s been doing this his entire life.”
The North American Hockey League West Division, where Kenai River plays, and the South Division, where Wichita Falls plays, are recognized as the two top divisions in the NAHL, according to David.
The Texas Tornado of the South Division won the Robertson Cup in 2012, while the Fairbanks Ice Dogs from the West won the cup in 2011.
“They’re a little like us,” David said of the Wildcats. “They’re up against the storied programs week in and week out.”
And like Kenai River, Wichita Falls has the ability to beat those programs. The Brown Bears recently took one of three from Wenatchee, while the Wildcats’ last game was a victory over the Tornado.
Kenai River enters the series at 6-5-3, while Wichita Falls is 5-8-2.
“They’re under .500, but they’re the youngest team in the South by far,” David said. “We were reviewing film this week, and when they get after it, they get after it.
“They are going to enjoy our big rink. Once they figure it out, we are going to have to battle to get some points.”
David said the weekend off could not have come at a better time. He said the entire coaching staff and many players have been sick.
Also, Jacob Davidson, half of the team’s top defensive pairing, should be back at full speed.
Davidson broke his nose in the first game of the Wenatchee series, skipped the second game, played the third game, then had surgery on Monday.
“He’s a guy we rely on heavily for his veteran experience and leadership,” David said.
The only player not ready to rejoin the lineup is defenseman Jake Bushey, who pairs with Davidson on the top defensive line. David said Bushey has a wrist injury that could keep him out of the lineup for a few more weeks.
David said that one of the most rejuvenated players is Albin Karlsson, who has four goals and two assists in 11 games.
Karlsson, who has committed to Division I Niagara University, was sick heading into the Wenatchee series.
He missed the first game, played in the second game, then was a healthy scratch in the third game.
“After being a healthy scratch, he has responded quite well,” David said. “He’s been the practice player of the day a couple of times.”
David also credited forwards Dylan Meier (2-6-8) and Chris Nuth (3-5-8) with really trying to step up their games in practice.