A hot Kenai River Brown Bears club will collide with an amped-up Fairbanks Ice Dogs squad today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Brown Bears come into the series on a four-game winning streak, their longest of the season. The Ice Dogs come into the series riding a three-game losing streak, their longest of the season.
“I’m 100 percent certain they are working beyond belief in practice and they definitely don’t have it in their plans to lose Friday in Kenai,” Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. “We need to be at our best. They’re coming in with a chip on their shoulder.”
The Ice Dogs lost three straight on the road against the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, though Fairbanks did pick up a point with a shootout loss. The Wild won despite not having head coach Bliss Littler or assistant Chris Clark in the series.
The Wenatchee World reported that both are suspended stemming from actions during the Bears’ 2-1 win over the Wild on Jan. 26. Littler is suspended for five games while Clark is suspended indefinitely. He can apply for reinstatement on March 25.
The Wild lead the North American Hockey League West Division with 66 points, while Fairbanks is second with 60, the Bears are third with 44 and the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters are fourth with 30.
If the playoffs started today, Kenai River would face off with Fairbanks. With 10 games left in the regular season, six in Soldotna and four in Fairbanks, the squads will become quite familiar with each other.
“This weekend is huge,” David said. “It’s a potential first-round playoff opponent.”
The Era Alaska Cup, the season-long battle between the two teams, is currently tied at 3-all.
“We swept them last time they were here,” David said. “Our ice is definitely bigger than every other rink we play in. The angles are so much different than in other arenas.
“Fairbanks has some new players and the last time here maybe they weren’t used to the surface yet.”
The Bears got two mentions in the Combat Hockey Divisional Stars of the Week. Alex Jackstadt was the Star of the Week, while goalie Marcus Zelzer was honorable mention.
Jackstadt had three goals and two assists in the just-completed, three-game sweep of Fresno.
“Jackstadt adds an element of competitiveness that is really unmatched,” David said of the Anchorage product. “He is the epitome of a Brown Bears player. He is what we hold most dear in our identity and that is supreme work ethic.”
Jackstadt continues to click with linemates Alec Butcher and Albin Karlsson. At least two members of the line have been in on scoring plays seven times in the last four games.
“They all are hockey players that are very crafty and have a good sense of time and space,” David said.
David also said the line of Matt Seidel, Chris Nuth and Dylan Meier has been clicking, but said finding consistency on other lines continues to be difficult due to injury.
Forward Brad Duwe sustained his second concussion since the Christmas break against Fresno and is out indefinitely. In the same game, forward Zack Zulkanycz got a concussion and also is probably out for the Fairbanks series.
“We’re doing well in all the areas of the game,” David said. “When you go on a seven-game point streak, there aren’t too many holes. Things have a chance to change against a team like Fairbanks.”
Notes … Assistant coach Kyle Bailey has left the team for a job opportunity outside of hockey. … Defenseman Vincent Stefan continues to make progress in his potential return this season from two concussions. David said Stefan is skating without contact, doing some lifting and is headache-free.