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Center Ice: Kenai River Brown Bears

By Josh Kaskinen | Image: KR Brown Bears

After ending the calendar year of 2019 with six straight games against the Amarillo Bulls, the New Mexico Ice Wolves will be welcoming another Alaska team to Outpost Ice Arena this weekend: the Kenai River Brown Bears of the Midwest division. This is second time this season that an Alaskan team has made their way to Albuquerque, as the Fairbanks Ice Dogs were in town for a two-game series back on November 1-2. The Ice Wolves will hope to fare better this time around, as Fairbanks was able to take victories in both of those games.

The final game of 2019 was the real highlight for New Mexico. For this New Year’s Eve showdown, the Ice Wolves and Bulls went back to the Budweiser Bull Pen in Amarillo for the final tilt of the season between these two teams. The Ice Wolves were clearly hungry to end 2019 on a high note, as they skated to a convincing 5-2 victory.

The previous six games in December were full of highs and lows for New Mexico. In the first weekend series in Amarillo, the Ice Wolves dropped all three games and were held scoreless each night. The following weekend, the Bulls visited Outpost Ice Arena for the second time this season. The first night, New Mexico picked up a point as they fell in overtime. The second night was another close game, but the Ice Wolves fell 3-2.

Now that the new year is upon us, the Ice Wolves get a chance to build some momentum at home this weekend against Kenai River before traveling to Alaska to take on the Ice Dogs and Brown Bears again in the two weekends to follow. Due to some poor performances lately and a tough stretch of the schedule for the Odessa Jackalopes, the Ice Wolves could find themselves jumping out of last place in the South Division after this weekend is over. That won’t be an easy task, however, as the Brown Bears should prove to be a tough opponent

With 48 points and a record of 22-10-1-3, the Kenai River Brown Bears are currently sitting in second place behind the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the Midwest Division. Although they are in a good place in the standings at this point in the season, the Brown Bears have been struggling a bit recently. In their past ten games, they have a record of 5-4-0-1, and they are currently on a three game losing streak, including a sweep in Texas last weekend at the hands of the Amarillo Bulls, being outscored by a total of 13-2 in those two games. Overall, the South Division consists of more top-end teams and strong competition than the Midwest Division, a fact that should benefit the Ice Wolves as they try to earn points at home this weekend.

Just because Kenai River isn’t the toughest team the Ice Wolves have faced this season, doesn’t mean they should be overlooked. The Brown Bears have several players on their roster who will be suiting up for an NCAA Division 1 team next season. These committed players will be staying in the western part of the college hockey landscape, either staying in Alaska or going to WCHA or NCHC schools.

Kenai River Brown Bears College Committments:

  • Skylar Gutierrez (Alaska Anchorage)
  • Bryan Huggins (Lake Superior State)
  • Zach Krajnik (Alaska Anchorage)
  • Porter Schachle (Alaska Anchorage)
  • Theo Thrun (Western Michigan)

Most of the players listed above have been leaders on the ice in Soldotna this year as well. Leading the Brown Bears in points are Krajnik (12-27-39), Thrun (17-20-37) and Schachle (12-19-31) along with Logan Ritchie (13-18-31). Several defenseman for the Brown Bears jump out as being offensively gifted as well, including Preston Weeks (5-10-15) and Robert McCollum (3-10-13), but the one that sticks out the most has to be Ryan Reid, who has one goal and 12 assists on the season, and a staggering rating of +22. He will surely be a blueliner who is capable of making plays for his teammates as well as playing his position phenomenally.

There has been some uncertainty surrounding athletics programs at the two major universities in Alaska, with Governor’s budget and with seven WCHA schools announcing last summer that they will be leaving to form a new collegiate hockey conference. Hopefully those issues can get resolved so that these players who have committed to becoming Seawolves will be able to have a successful college hockey career.

This series also marks the return to Albuquerque of defenseman Dylan Hadfield. The 19 year old from Westminster, California appeared in 5 games for the Ice Wolves, though he failed to register a point before being released on October 5. He was added to the Brown Bears roster just 13 days later and has started to find his form a bit since then, scoring a goal and adding five assists in 25 games played. Expect Hadfield to play hard against his former team.

In net, Landon Pavlisin is the clear number one option for the Brown Bears. In 30 games played this season, Pavlisin had earned 19 wins, and is posting solid numbers with a 2.85 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. With a strong defense and goaltending presence, the Ice Wolves will have their work cut out for them in order to earn wins against the Brown Bears.

Friday night’s game between these two teams ended in a 6-2 Ice Wolves victory. The Ice Wolves are no longer in last place in the South Division.

Tonight’s game will begin at 7:00pm.

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