Fairbanks has a reputation as one of the toughest places to play in the North American Hockey League, with the Ice Dogs getting at least 20 home wins the last two seasons.
So when the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays took three points in two games in Fairbanks last weekend before coming to town to play the Kenai River Brown Bears this weekend, coach Oliver David took notice.
“That is a huge cause for alarm,” David said. “Sirens are going off. We’ve got a team coming to town that means business.”
The Brown Bears and IceRays drop the puck at the Soldotna Sports Center at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Kenai River enters the series at 8-5-3 in third place in the West Division, while Corpus Christi is 5-7-4 in fourth place in the South Division.
Last weekend, the Bears swept the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats, another foe from the South Division.
Kenai River was the only team from the West Division to get all four points last weekend, and it showed when the NAHL announced its Stars of the Week.
Forward Lucas Kohls was the West Star of the Week, while defenseman Jake Davidson was the second star.
The Bears swept the top two stars for the first time all year. There have been six West Stars of the Week this year, and the Brown Bears have taken three of them. Forward Matt Seidel and goalie Gustaf Johannson also have won the award.
Kohls had two goals, including the game-winner, and a n assist in Friday’s 9-3 win, then assisted on the game-winner in Saturday’s 5-2 win.
He now has eight goals and 11 assists and is tied for seventh in the league with 19 points.
“He is a big kid who is an offensive threat when he is on the ice,” David said of the 6-foot-3, 197-pounder. “I’ve said from the beginning that he’s got a long way to go, but he’ll always be recognized for his offensive ability.”
Kohls, 19, is part of a Kenai River draft class that is helping the squad make waves around the league.
Seidel, who is second in the league with 22 points, also was part of the draft class. Goalie Sean Healy, defenseman Carson Vance and defenseman Jake Bushey round out players from the draft on the roster.
Bushey, part of the team’s top defensive pairing with Davidson, will be a game-time decision this weekend with a wrist injury. Other than that, the team is healthy, according to David.
David said Nicholas Shackford, the director of player personnel, did a great job in the draft.
“At least since I’ve been here, as it looks today, this is the best draft we have put together,” David said.
The coach said that each year he tries to put together a team that will take advantage of the Olympic-sized ice sheet at the sports center, but said it is too soon to say whether this year’s team plays better on big or small ice.
The Bears, who are third in the league with 60 goals, are a threat to score no matter where they play.
Kenai River has scored five or more goals in four of eight games on the road, and four of eight games at home.
“I don’t know how much weight to put into the size of the rink,” David said. “We want to play a team game. We want to use all the ice.
“It’s up for debate whether the big ice is working or not. What’s not up for debate is that we’ve been able to put up a lot of points.”