Fresh off a couple of big player transactions, the Kenai River Brown Bears host the Springfield Jr. Blues today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The biggest news involves top goaltender Gustaf Johannson and second-leading scorer Lucas Kohls.
According to assistant coach and director of player personnel Nick Shackford, Johannson is most likely out for the rest of the year with a knee injury.
Shackford said the injury has been lingering and Johannson decided he had to go home to Sweden.
“We could get him back for the playoffs, but it doesn’t look too promising,” Shackford said.
Johansson was 12-9-2 with a .908 save percentage for the Bears.
The Bears have acquired goalie Marcus Zelzer from the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings.
Shackford said Zelzer is 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and took Aberdeen to the playoffs last year.
“It’s very hard to acquire a goalie from inside the league this time of year,” Shackford said. “We expect a lot out of him.”
Zelzer will arrive Saturday, but due to a long day of travel, Shackford is not sure when he will first play.
Kohls, who is second on the team with 23 points, has been traded to the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Junior Wings for Mikhail Bushinski.
“It’s a good trade for both clubs,” Shackford said. “Us and Kalamazoo use a different type of system and a different style.
“Kohls really doesn’t fit into our style of play. He’s a Division I guy for sure, but Bushinski fits our style better.”
Bushinski played last year for the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters, and had 17 points in 36 games for Fresno this year. He was traded to Kalamazoo and had six points in 20 games.
“He is crafty and his hockey IQ is high,” Shackford said.
Zelzer and Bushinski both played hockey at the famous prep program at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, where the Bears’ Jacob Davidson also played.
Shackford said players from Shattuck tend to have high hockey IQs.
Bushinksi gets into town today, but Shackford is not sure if he will play.
With three other players day-to-day with injuries, the Bears could find themselves short-handed this weekend.
Vincent Stefan and Dylan Meier have concussions, while Albin Karlsson has a shoulder injury.
With the trade deadline coming Feb. 6, Shackford said the Bears are intent on upgrading their roster.
“We’ve got a good core of guys and we’re trying to put the pieces together,” Shackford said. “There’s going to be a lot of trading with the deadline looming.”
The Bears currently sit at 14-16-4 in the North American Hockey League West Division.
Wenatchee (Wash.) leads with 51 points, Fairbanks has 47 and Fresno has 25.
Springfield is second last in the North Division with a 15-21-2 record.
Kenai River is coming off a road trip to Wenatchee and Fresno where the Bears went 2-4, including a disappointing 3-1 loss to Fresno the last time out.
“We set a new tone right when we got back from Fresno,” Shackford said. “We set the tone right off the bus.”
Along with trades, this is a big time of year for college commitments. Captain Zac Lazzaro just committed to Utica College in New York. Shackford said Utica is a top Division III school.