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Bears fight illness before facing Avs

Posted: Friday, February 12, 2010

The Kenai River Brown Bears' main concern for their two-game home series with the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla is having a full roster.

"We're just short-manned and not healthy," Brown Bears head coach Oliver David said. "We will do the best we can and compete as hard as we can. Hopefully, we get our numbers for the weekend."

The puck drops tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.

Six players, including goaltenders Mike Martin and Dainis Vasiljevs, have been sick all week, David said. Each are day-to-day and it's uncertain how many will be ready to play tonight, he said.

Defenseman Raymond Stenehjem is out of the lineup due to injury. Stenehjem broke his arm during last week's three-game series at Alaska.

"That's a huge loss," David said of Stenehjem's injury. "He was one of our studs on defense."

Through 12 games played with Kenai River, Stenehjem recorded one goal and a minus-1 rating.

With the roster deadline ending Wednesday, the Brown Bears added two additional players. Goalie Josh Benton, who's been an affiliate player all season for Kenai River, was officially signed Wednesday. Benton made his North American Hockey League debut last Friday against the Avs. Despite giving up five goals, the Brown Bears newest goaltender posted a .909 save percentage, turning away 50 of Alaska's 55 shots.

"He was tremendous for most of the game," David said.

Vasiljevs (4-5-1) has a .903 save percentage and a 3.20 goals against average in 11 appearances for Kenai River. Martin (3-14-0) has a 3.93 GAA and a .890 save percentage in 21 games this season.

Kenai River also added forward Casey Kirley from Central Division squad Alexandria Blizzard.

Blue liner Matt Sutherland played his first game with Kenai River on Jan. 23 against the Avs. In four games, Sutherland has a plus-1 rating.

Though he did not make the team in the summer, Sutherland has worked himself into the lineup due to illness and injury, David said.

"He's got a good attitude and work ethic," David said of Sutherland.

The last-place West Division Brown Bears (10-30-3) are 2-11-1 against the third-place Avs (23-13-6). Alaska trails second-place Fairbanks by five points.

Kenai River enters the home series with a 5-16-1 record at the Sports Center. The Avs, who are coming off of a three-game sweep of the Brown Bears, are currently 9-10-3 on the road.

As of Thursday, the Brown Bears power play ranked 15th in the league out of 19 teams at 15.04 percent. Kenai River's penalty killing ranked 17th at 80.34 percent.

The Avs power play was seventh in the league, converting 17.41 percent of the time. At 83.64 percent, Alaska's penalty killing ranked seventh.

David said skating hard has been stressed at practice.

"At the end of the day, if you train your body and your mind to get stronger, anything can happen," he said. "You really have to commit to the training."

In six games played against the Avs, Johan Skinnars has three goals and four assists. Skinnars has 17 points in 13 games for Kenai River.

Brad Duwe tallied five points in the three-game Avs series and is tied with Doug Beck and Brett Lubanksi with 21 total points on the season.

For success, David said his team has to play up-tempo.

"Anyone that's watching closely will tell you that the games we've managed to win or played well in, there's always been energy associated with the description of the game," he said. "On nights we don't have energy, those are the nights it turns out bad on the scoreboard."

With strong work ethic and a positive outlook, David said he has the team to be successful.

"As long as we keep improving and have that go-go-go attitude, we can wear guys down with the talent we have," he said.

Mike Nesper can be reached at mike.nesper@peninsulaclarion.com.



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