Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Brent Agrusa has been lauding his team's conditioning work since before the season began, yet the third period has been the worst period for the Brown Bears this season.
Agrusa said his team is letting up mentally, not physically.
"We train very hard, certainly, so it's not conditioning," Agrusa said. "I think it's mental with a young team. We get up by a goal and we play defensively and sit back.
"That's not the type of game we play. We need to stay on the attack and press all night."
The Brown Bears will have a chance to improve their third-period play tonight, Friday and Saturday when they take on North American Hockey League West Division rival Fairbanks at the Soldotna Sports Center. Tonight's game is at 7:05 p.m., while the puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
The Brown Bears and Ice Dogs will be fighting to keep pace with the division-leading Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla.
The Avs are 6-2-0 for 12 points, while the Brown Bears are 4-5-1 for nine points and the Ice Dogs are 3-4-1 for seven points.
Agrusa said it would be the Brown Bears on top of the division if the team's third-period woes had not surfaced Friday and Saturday in a 4-3 shootout loss and a 6-4 loss to the Avs.
The Brown Bears have been outscored 15-7 this year in the third period. On Friday, Kenai River was outscored 1-0 in the third. On Saturday, the Brown Bears played the final 20 minutes at a 4-1 deficit.
Saturday was particularly frustrating for Agrusa, because he said the Bears were outshooting the Avs at a 3-to-1 clip 10 minutes through the second period.
"I thought we were great for two periods, but we weren't very good for the third," Agrusa said of the weekend losses. "It was tough to lose the lead, especially when for the first half of each game, I thought we played some of our best hockey of the year."
Despite the two losses, Agrusa said the team is continuing to take steps forward. He said the Bears are now plus one on the power play, plus they are starting to cycle the puck and get more quality chances on offense.
The problem is Agrusa's system is aggressive and offensive, and the system doesn't work if a team is sitting back trying to protect a lead.
"With young teams, a lot of times it's a situation where they have to fail before they succeed," Agrusa said. "Hopefully, they're saying 'Wow, we dropped these games. We should have won. Now we've got to correct it.'"
The Bears are 1-1 this season against Fairbanks. Fairbanks, Alaska and Wenatchee, Wash., will combine to make up three quarters of Alaska's schedule, but Agrusa said that doesn't matter, just like the period shouldn't matter.
"I've always been one that doesn't worry about who we're playing against," Agrusa said. "I worry about what we're doing."
The coach said one more positive development is forward Patrick Sullivan from Derby, N.Y., getting recognized on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's "Players to Watch" list for 2009 draft-eligibles released Monday.
"That's a huge opportunity," Agrusa said. "That means he's in the running to get drafted into the NHL in June."
There are A, B and C ratings. Sullivan got a C rating. A C rating is a player that Central Scouting is tracking and a potential late-round selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
There were 29 NAHL players put on the list. Twenty players from the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 Team were listed, including seven A players. An A rating is a must-see player predicted to be a potential first- or second-round selection.
Sullivan, 18, is 200 pounds and has one goal and two assists this year.
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