JANESVILLE, WI — The Jets’ first Alaska trip offers them a chance to play spoiler.
On September 18, 2015, the Kenai River Brown Bears topped the Jets, 4-3, in overtime on the Jets’ home opener of the 2015-16 season. Fast forward three years to September 14 and 15 of 2018, when the Brown Bears again spoiled the Jets’ home opener, that time with a high-scoring sweep (5-2, 7-3).
Tonight the Jets visit the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, and nothing would be sweeter than to return the favor.
The Brown Bears opened this season at the 2019 NAHL Showcase Tournament, where they played more hockey than anyone. None of their four games were decided in regulation, and three needed the shootout. First-year head coach Kevin Murdock rebounded after an 0-0-1-1 start with two shootout victories, then swept the Minnesota Magicians at their home opener. The Chippewa Steel gave Kenai River a tougher time last week, meaning both the Brown Bears and the Jets are looking to snap two-game skids tonight.
The hope in Soldotna is that Murdock is the man who can help the franchise end its current streak of five seasons without a playoff appearance. Optimists among the fans would point to four straight seasons of increased win totals (4, 12, 18, 23), and a nice 10-point start to the season, good for third place in the Midwest Division right now.
Early showings from the Brown Bears suggest a lot of their success will come from the scoring duo of Theo Thrun and University of Alaska-Anchorage recruit Zach Krajnik. At nine points each, the pair are tied for fifth in scoring from Midwest Division teams, and have contributed greatly to Kenai River’s seventh-ranked power play.
Head coach Corey Leivermann’s Jets, though, present a very difficult challenge to Murdock’s group this weekend. A young but talented roster will be ready for back-to-back-to-back contests, eager to prove that the team’s 0-4 division start is far less characteristic than their 3-1 record at the Showcase. The Jets left Blaine, Minnesota, site of the Showcase, with tough questions to answer about replacing some scoring lost to early injuries.
Since the Showcase, Janesville has been without forwards Parker Lindauer, Logan Ommen, and Jackson Sabo, who combine for 12 points in 14 total games. But Leivermann and assistant coach Lennie Childs expect contributions from high-skill roster additions like forwards Jan Lasak, Jake Dunlap, and Charlie Schoen. Dunlap and Schoen were each fifth-round selections of the Jets from June’s NAHL Draft, and brought with them Division I commitments (UMass-Amherst and Arizona State, respectively).
As the young talent matures and develops, and the sidelined players continue to heal, this Janesville group should prove able to do much better than last year’s 4-4 record versus Kenai River. Again, two of those four Brown Bear victories, as Kenai River fans no doubt giddily remember, spoiled the Jets’ home-opening series.
Turnabout is fair play.
Fri Oct 11 | 10:30pm CT
Sat Oct 12 | 10:30pm CT
Sun Oct 13 | 8:00pm CT
Record: 3-5-0-0 (5th, Midwest)
Road Record: 0-1-0-0
Last Ten Games: 3-5-0-0
Goals For/Game: 2.50 (18th)
Goals Against/Game: 3.25 (17th)
Shots For/Game: 26.75 (19th)
Shots Against/Game: 28.88 (11th)
Power Play: 9.5% (21st)
Penalty Kill: 72.7% (20th)
Top Scorers: F Jackson Sabo (4GP—3G-2A—5TS); Multiple Players (4PTS)
Goaltenders: Grant Riley (2-3-0-0; 3.01 GAA; .899 SV%); Cristian Wong-Ramos (1-2-0-0; 3.00 GAA; .889 SV%)
Rostered Commitments: F Justin Engelkes (Miami); F Jake Dunlap (UMass Amherst); D Grant Hindman (Lake Superior State); F Max Itagaki (RPI); F Parker Lindauer (Northern Michigan); F Nick Nardella (Michigan Tech); F Isaac Novak (Wisconsin); D Casey Roepke (Wisconsin); F Charlie Schoen (Arizona State)
KENAI RIVER BROWN BEARS
Record: 4-2-1-1 (3rd, Midwest)
Home Record: 0-0-0-0
Last Ten Games: 4-2-1-1
Goals For/Game: 2.88 (11th)
Goals Against/Game: 3.75 (24th)
Shots For/Game: 26.13 (21st)
Shots Against/Game: 36.13 (25th)
Power Play: 25.0% (7th)
Penalty Kill: 77.8% (16th)
Top Scorers: F Theo Thrun (8GP—4G-5A—9PTS); F Zach Krajnik (8GP—2G-7A—9PTS); F Logan Ritchie (8GP—3G-3A—6PTS)
Goaltenders: Landon Pavlisin (3-1-0-1; 3.16 GAA; .901 SV%); Danny Fraga (1-1-0-0; 4.58 GAA; .890 SV%)
Rostered Commitments: D Bryan Huggins (Lake Superior State); F Zach Krajnik (Alaska-Anchorage); F Porter Schachle (Alaska-Anchorage)