For a team that's finished in last place in its division in each of its three years of existence, winning four consecutive games is a major achievement.
Mention that to Kenai River Brown Bears coach Oliver David, however, and he sees his team's situation a little differently.
"We aren't satisfied," David said. "We have to prove we are the real deal."
The Brown Bears (10-8-2) return to the Soldotna Sports Center riding a franchise-best, four-game winning streak after consecutive victories on the road last weekend against the Alaska Avalanche of Palmer, who come to town Thursday for three games on the Brown Bears' home ice.
Kenai River hosts Alaska (9-9-0) at 7:05 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Brown Bears have won three of their past four against the Avalanche and enter the series playing some of their best hockey of the campaign.
A sweep of Alaska would give Kenai River more wins this season than it had all of last season, when the team finished in last place with a record of 12-40-6 and a league-low 30 points.
More importantly, 38 games remain on the regular-season schedule.
"The message this week has been we have a target on our back now," David said. "We aren't the underdog anymore. Everyone who comes to Soldotna is going to study and will be prepared to play."
The series also has implications on the North American Hockey League West Division standings, with the Brown Bears trailing the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild and Fairbanks Ice Dogs by just two points for first place.
Wenatchee is 12-6-0, while Fairbanks is 11-6-2. Both teams have 24 points.
Those numbers aren't going unnoticed by the players.
"Everyone is really excited, it means a lot to us," defenseman Chris Rial said. "It would be great to get five, six, seven wins in a row."
With a pair of victories over Alaska on its latest road trip, Kenai River extended its winning streak to four and moved into second place in the NAHL West standings. The Brown Bears are in position to make a push for first place, and the players are beginning to believe it could happen.
"The camaraderie in the locker room is great right now," Rial said. "We are all playing together, we're playing as a team."
Despite the recent success, David said the squad must continue to improve.
Kenai River dropped four consecutive games by one goal prior to the winning streak, losing to the Fresno (Calif.) Monsters 4-3 and the last-place Dawson Creek (B.C.) Rage 5-4, 3-2 and 1-0 last month.
As the season moves forward, David said, the Brown Bears must win close games.
"We need to close those out," he said. "It's nice to have this winning streak, but we need to be consistent."
David called the Avalanche an "offensively talented team," saying he expects Alaska to share the puck and make lateral plays, while playing an aggressive defense.
Alaska also has been active off the ice, making nine transactions since opening day. The team released three players and traded for three more last week alone.
Meanwhile, Kenai River has made just two moves in 2010.
"So far we have been able to match up with them," David said. "But we have to be sharp."
Among those who have played well during the club's winning streak, David said, are forwards Matt Thompson and Connor Wright.
Thompson has five points over the past four games, scoring two goals and tallying three assists, while Wright has added three points in the same span.
Doug Beck, also a forward, continues to lead the team in scoring. He has 19 points on 10 goals and nine assists.
Inside the crease -- Kenai River has dubbed the series Military Appreciation Weekend and all active and retired military receive free admission today. ... The Brown Bears will wear special uniforms each night to honor those who have and do serve, with autographed jerseys and photos being auctioned to fans Saturday. ... Doug Beck, a forward, and Chris Rial, a defender, have been selected to participate in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament for the league's top players Dec. 5 to 7 in Walpole, Mass. ... Brett Lubanski, Jesse Ramsey, Brad Duwe and Rial are this weekend's featured players, meaning fans who purchase a program Friday or Saturday receive their autographed trading cards. ... Prior to this season, Kenai River's longest winning streak was three games, a feat it accomplished once in 2007-08 and again in 2008-09.
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