With a spot in the North American Hockey League playoffs all but clinched, the Kenai River Brown Bears take the ice tonight at the Soldotna Sports Center with a chance to improve their playoff positioning.
Kenai River faces the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild at 7:05 p.m. tonight and Wednesday. After Wednesday, the Brown Bears have five games left in the regular season -- two on the road and three at home.
Any point earned by the Brown Bears or any point missed by the Fresno (Calif.) Falcons in the standings clinches a berth for the Brown Bears. Fresno plays at division-leading Fairbanks tonight and Wednesday.
Kenai River sits at fourth place in the division at 25-21-5, good for 55 points. Wenatchee is in third at 59 points, meaning Kenai River could tie the Wild for third place with a series sweep. The Alaska Avalanche of Palmer sits in second with 61 points. The Bears would have to finish second in the division to get home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
"Our main goal was to make the playoffs, but now it's, 'Where do you want to have a chance to play in the playoffs?'" Brown Bears coach Oliver David said. "It's a long shot, but we have a chance to maybe compete for second place in the division."
The coach said his squad has its sights set on a number of accomplishments besides making the playoffs. David said the Brown Bears want to finish better than .500, both at home, where they are 13-9-2, and on the road, where they are 12-12-3.
The team also wants to finish .500 or better against all of its competition this season. The Bears started 2-2 at the North American Hockey League Showcase.
In the West Division, the Bears are 4-3 against Wenatchee, 4-4-2 against Fairbanks, 5-2 against Fresno, 3-3-3 against Dawson Creek (British Columbia) and 7-7 against the Avalanche.
"Only one team ends their season with the Robertson Cup," David said. "Everybody ends the season losing except one team.
"To know we competed .500 or above against every team would be quite the accomplishment, whether we win it all or not."
David is expecting Wenatchee to hit the ice fired up after the Wild failed to gain a point last weekend in a two-game set against the Avalanche. He said teams in the West Division get so accustomed to travel that being on the road won't hurt the Wild.
The Brown Bears have won three straight, scoring a total of 17 goals in the three games. While David would love that output to continue, he knows that may not be possible this time of year.
"If we don't score four-plus goals a game, it becomes a little tighter game," David said. "That's when goaltending and team defense comes into it. It remains to be seen if we can consistently win tight games, but playoff hockey will more likely be highly competitive."
Mathias Dahlstrom has been the beneficiary of Kenai River's scoring touch, winning the last three games in net. He will get the start Tuesday.
Doug Beck was named the West Division player of the week for his three goals and two assists in the Fresno series. Beck is tied for ninth in the league in scoring with 57 points.
Erik Persson also gave the Bears a big boost in the Fresno series, scoring three goals while playing the point on the power play. Perrson has 10 goals and 12 assists on the year.
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