Fresh off snapping a seven-game losing streak, the Kenai River Brown Bears face the Johnstown (Pennsylvania) Tomahawks tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears are 13-28-1-2, 16 points out of the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with 16 games left to play.
“Until they put a red line through us and tell us we can’t be in the playoffs, we’re going to treat every day like it’s a playoff race,” Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich said.
The games against the Tomahawks (15-27-2-1) are crucial to making up ground. Johnstown swept the Bears in Pennsylvania on Jan. 5 and 6, with Kenai River giving up a 3-1, third-period lead in a 4-3 loss in the second game.
“We relaxed and let the game come to us, instead of taking it to them,” Petrich said.
The coach called it a mistake of inexperience, and added those youthful mistakes are the main thing keeping the Bears from piling up more wins.
“We’re making mistakes and other teams are capitalizing on them,” Petrich said. “But I also think we’re seeing a team grow up before our eyes.”
The Bears defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) in a shootout Saturday even though it was the second game without leading scorer Luke Radetic, who had been traded. Anchorage’s Lukas Millen replaced Radetic.
Calling Radetic one of the best players in the league, Petrich was happy with the way the team responded.
“Having a player like Luke, you can sit back and say, ‘Luke will do it,’” Petrich said. “Lukas Millen is more of a bull in a China shop. He doesn’t care who he runs over if they are in his way.
“It’s changed the team dynamic a little more.”
Petrich said Radetic’s departure puts more pressure on the entire lineup, something that isn’t bad.
“Nobody had a big point weekend,” Petrich said. “We had scoring coming from everybody and that makes us tougher to play against.”
Bears notes: Friday will be Advanced Physical Therapy night.