The Kenai River Brown Bears will play their last two home games of the regular season today and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Soldotna Sports Center.
The Brown Bears will square off against the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild, which leads the North American Hockey League West Division with a 40-9-3 record. The Brown Bears are in last in the West Division with a 12-36-6 record.
The two-game series will be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup between the two teams, which starts April 2 in Wenatchee. The series will be best-of-five, but all of the games will be in Wenatchee.
Brown Bears coach Oliver David said Wenatchee reached an agreement at the beginning of the season that said if the Wild wins the division, they get to play all of their first-round playoff games at home.
The two teams have played 10 times this year, with Wenatchee winning nine times. Kenai River defeated the Wild 4-3 on Oct. 1 in the first matchup this year of the teams. Only one of the Wild's victories over the Brown Bears came in a shootout -- a 4-3 win in Wenatchee on Feb. 27 in the most recent meeting of the teams.
Unless the Brown Bears are able to win that playoff series against Wenatchee, Friday and Saturday will be the last chance for fans to see the team this year.
"We had a three-game series against them a few weeks back, and it actually went progressively better as the series went on," David said. "We got to a shootout in the last one. We played aggressively and we were able to score on the power play."
The power play has been a bright spot for the Brown Bears, who are ranked seventh in the league with an 18.4 percent success rate on the man advantage. In that shootout loss, the Brown Bears were 3-of-6 on the power play against the Wild, whose penalty kill is ranked fourth in the league.
David said players with 1989 birthdays would be making their last regular-season appearance on home ice. Those players include Casey Kirley, Matt Bennett, Brad Fusaro, Matthew Cinader, Ryan Townsend, Braden Kinnebrew, Johan Skinnars and Mike Martin.
Skinnars leads the team with 34 points in just 24 games. Soldotna product Brad Duwe is now second on the team with 30 points in 43 games.
David said the players appreciated the big crowds during a recent three-game series against Alexandria. The Brown Bears had a victory, a shootout loss and a loss in the series. Kenai River had been on the road for about a month prior to those home games.
"It felt like a pretty packed house that last series and it definitely helps," David said.
The coach said the players especially appreciated the crowds after playing out of the division in the Lower 48 on a recent road trip and seeing only a few hundred fans in the stands.
In the division, it's a different story. Wenatchee, at 3,417 fans per home game, and Fairbanks, at 2,066 fans per home game, are the top two attractions in the league. The Brown Bears are 11th in the 19-team league in attendance at 713 fans per game.
"Each year, Wenatchee is able to attract high-caliber players," David said. "Their coaching staff is very professional and takes their job very seriously. From the looks of it, they teach very efficiently as well."
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