Both the Kenai River Brown Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs will look to capture a little momentum in the next two weeks as the two squads finish off their longest stretches in Alaska this season.
The Brown Bears and Ice Dogs play today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, then play Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 2 in Fairbanks before both depart on road trips. Both squads don’t play again in Alaska until Jan. 12.
Kenai River (8-12-1-0) and Fairbanks (11-5-2-2) have not used the time in Alaska to catch fire thus far. The Brown Bears are 4-6-1 in Alaska during this stretch, while the Ice Dogs are 4-3-3. Neither team has been able to record a sweep on home ice. In fact, the only sweep came last weekend, when the Bismarck (North Dakota) Bobcats took two from the Bears.
The rivals split at the sports complex on Nov. 3 and 4, with Fairbanks winning 7-1, then Kenai River coming back to win 2-1 in a shootout. That leaves the Ravn Cup, the seasonlong battle for supremacy between the teams, at 1-1.
“We have the ability to beat them, we’ve already shown it,” Kenai River head coach Josh Petrich said. “It starts by putting together a solid first 20 minutes Friday, focusing shift by shift.”
In two-game series on this homestand, the Bears are 0-4 on Fridays and have been plagued by bad starts. Petrich said the team then has to chase to attempt the comeback, and the result has been 25 goals allowed in those four Friday losses. The Brown Bears are tied for fifth in the North American Hockey League with 64 goals, but the four Fridays have ballooned goals allowed to 78, the fourth-worst mark in the league.
The Ice Dogs are a particularly bad team to have to chase, because they have allowed just 46 goals, fourth in the league.
“We know them well and what they do,” Petrich said. “It comes down to effort and who wants it more.”
Petrich said several other factors come into play when facing off against a team five straight times.
“It’s going to be physical, especially against a rival,” Petrich said. “We’ve got to be prepared for that and take it in stride.”
The coach also said every stretch of the game is important no matter what the score, because a team can use momentum created late in a loss and carry it over into the next game.
Just like against the Bobcats, Kenai River and Fairbanks are polar opposites on the power play. The Bears have the top power play in the league, while Fairbanks is 19th. But the Ice Dogs have the top penalty kill in the league, while the Bears are second last.
Luke Radetic continues to lead the high-scoring Bears with 24 points, good for fourth in the league. Cam McDonald runs the power play and has 16 points — all on assists — to tie him for third among defensemen.
Fairbanks will be backed up by two of the best goalies in the league.
Logan Neaton is fifth with a 1.88 goals-against average, while Josh Benson is sixth at 2.11.