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Series preview: Bears vs. IceRays

Posted: October 10, 2013 - 10:57pm

Oct. 27 of last season was a high time for the Kenai River Brown Bears.

The Peninsula’s North American Hockey League squad had just swept the Wichita Falls (Texas) Wildcats 9-3 and 5-2 at the Soldotna Sports Center.

That put the Bears at third in the West Division at 8-5-3, and third in the league in goals. Young forwards Matt Seidel and Lucas Kohls, who both aren’t on the team anymore, were in the top seven in the league in points.

The sky was the limit, and then the Corpus Christi (Texas) IceRays came to town the next weekend.

The Ice Rays smothered the Bears’ offense in a pair of 3-2 wins, starting a 2-5-1 stretch that would end with Kenai River getting swept by the IceRays in Texas on Nov. 23 and 24.

“A couple of the guys already brought that up in the team meeting this week,” Bears head coach Geoff Beauparlant said. “They are a team that is very well-prepared, as you have to be to come up to Alaska and do well.

“We’re very aware of what happened last year.”

As the IceRays arrive for 7:30 p.m. games Friday and Saturday at the sports center, the Bears are again riding a string of solid play.

Kenai River has won seven of its last eight games to move to 7-3-0 and second in the Midwest Division. Alec Butcher leads the league with 14 points on six goals, while Sebastian Fuchs is tied for third in the league with 12 points on six goals.

Butcher had not yet joined the Brown Bears last season at the time of the Soldotna sweep.

“I know that they swept us here last year, though,” Butcher said. “We can’t let that happen again. That’s unacceptable.”

But the IceRays (4-5-1) arrive with some confidence after winning one of two in Fairbanks, just as they did last season.

One thing that has changed since last season for the IceRays is the head coach, as John Becanic has replaced Justin Quenneville.

Becanic, who coached the Pittsburgh Forge to a Robertson Cup title in 2003, is familiar with trips to Alaska after coaching the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild for half of 2010-11 and all of 2011-12, when the Wild set an NAHL record by allowing just 1.70 goals per game.

“He has a commitment to defense,” Beauparlant said. “It’s something he demands of his players, and it’s something they buy into.

“Then having two good goaltenders like he has helps keep the puck out of the net.”

The IceRays were outshot 50-25 in notching a 3-2 victory Friday in Fairbanks, then allowed 39 shots in a 4-1 Saturday loss.

“That many shots is not typical of a John Becanic hockey club, and I’m sure he wasn’t overly pleased, but they got the win Friday night,” Beauparlant said. “They’re riding high. They played well there.”

Ice Rays goalie Ben Myers, 20, was named South Division Star of the Week for his play. Myers had 48 saves Friday and then stopped 24 of 25 shots Saturday after being inserted after two early goals. Eric Purcell leads Corpus Christi with 12 points on seven goals.

Beauparlant said the one major change for his club this week is that Brad LeLievre will be joining Fuchs and Butcher on a line Friday. Albin Karlsson has a one-game suspension due to removal of a helmet during a fight in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Coulee Region (Wis.) Chill.

“Brad LeLievre is the type of player that continually works hard and gives a consistent effort every day,” Beauparlant said. “He’s had a good week of practice.”

Butcher also is confident that LeLievre can keep the line humming.

“Brad is a good player,” he said. “He’s fast and he’s adjusting to the line. He’ll do a good job.”

Bears notes: Beauparlant said everybody is healthy except for Gustav Berglund, who remains sidelined after a concussion.

… The Bears are teaming with Central Peninsula Hospital to auction off special jerseys and raise money for cancer patients at Friday’s and Saturday’s games.

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