Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David reads books by coaches to sharpen his trade. He’s currently reading a book by 49ers great Bill Walsh.
There’s no such thing as an official bible of coaching for the Kenai River coach to read, but David showed he’s well-versed in one of the commandments of coaching when he refused to blame injuries for the team’s recent woes.
The Brown Bears (14-18-4) started gathering steam with a sweep of Fairbanks on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at the Soldotna Sports Center. The Bears played tough in two 3-2 losses at Fairbanks, then beat the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild 5-3 on Dec. 28 coming off Christmas break.
Since then, the Bears have lost six of seven, including being swept by the Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues at the sports center last weekend.
Injuries and illness have left the Bears short-handed in their last seven games, but David did not blame that heading into 7:30 p.m. games today and Saturday with the Janesville (Wis.) Jets.
“It’s not an excuse to say we’re short-handed because of illness and injury,” David said. “That’s just the facts.”
The injuries have hurt in two ways. First, it keeps the Bears from putting four consistent lines together. For instance, last week against the Jr. Blues, Kenai River rotated three centers with four different sets of wingers. That means centers get tired and lines have little chance to develop chemistry.
Second, the Bears have had some of their top players on the shelf.
Goalie Gustaf Johannson, who had been battling a knee injury and the flu, has been placed on season-ending injured reserve. Johannson is the lone player on the team to be named the North American Hockey League West Division Star of the Week twice.
Injuries also have hit the Bears’ top three plus-minus players. Plus-minus measures goals scored vs. goals allowed on the ice.
Albin Karlsson, tied for the team lead at plus seven and the lone player on the team committed to a Division I school, had been forming the team’s most consistent line with Alex Jackstadt and Alec Butcher. Karlsson separated a shoulder in the Wenatchee series and David said he won’t be ready for the weekend.
The team’s top plus-minus defenseman is Vincent Stefan at plus seven. Stefan sustained a concussion near Thanksgiving in a car accident, then sustained another concussion in the Wenatchee series. He hasn’t played since and will be out this weekend.
The Bears did get forward Dylan Meier and his plus three back this week. Meier, who has 15 points in 30 games, had been out with a concussion.
But forward Brad Duwe, who has six points since joining the team 12 games ago, sustained a mild concussion in practice on Monday. David said Duwe, a product of Soldotna High School, would not practice the rest of the week and would be a game-time decision.
“We’ve had a lot of concussions this year,” David said. “I think we’ve had more this year than in the last two years combined.”
The Bears have rebounded from the loss of Johannson by picking up NAHL veteran netminder Marcus Zelzer, who is from Green Bay, Wis., and has been practicing with the team this week.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder actually played against the Brown Bears in the 2010-11 season, when Zelzer was with Wenatchee. He was traded to the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings, where he went 15-11-2 last season with a .919 save percentage as Aberdeen made its way to the playoffs.
This year, he is 6-13-1 with a .895 save percentage for Aberdeen, which recently made a coaching change and is 8-24-4. So while 6-13-1 isn’t very impressive, it becomes more impressive when one realizes the Wings are 2-11-3 without Zelzer in net.
Janesville is 15-18-6, but David expects a stern test from the Jets. Springfield plays in the same division as Janesville and left town with a 17-21-2 record.
In Janesville, Kenai River lost to the Jets 3-2 on Sept. 28 before earning a 4-3 win on Sept. 29.
“They’re a very good team and they can skate,” David said. “When all these teams that can skate come in here, their eyes light up when they see our Olympic-sized sheet.
“There’s not as much body contact on the Olympic-sized sheet.”