It has come down to one game on the ice for the Crimson Bears.
The Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team will be facing a heavy task on the Mid-Alaska Conference playoff road Friday night at Fairbanks.
Not only do the black and red boys have to skate against the conference’s second seed Lathrop (8-12-1), but they have to do it without the puck skills of senior Kevin Zigarlick who was lost to a shoulder injury during last weekend’s senior appreciation series against the Hutchison Hawks.
“It is tough watching the team play without you,” Zigarlick said. “It is what it is. It is hockey. It happens. I will do whatever I can to help them win.”
The injury was confirmed Wednesday as cracked and separated shoulder that will require 4-6 weeks of recovery.
“Kevin is going with us but he is definitely not playing,” JDHS coach Dave McKenna said. “It was definitely a set back for us. Nobody tries harder on a daily basis more than Kevin and his attitude has been great every since he skated here. He has been a great leader for us. The reality is that this has inspired the rest of the kids to step up and do their part. A lot of the time we rely too much on our older, more experienced players. I like what I have been seeing at practice.”
MAC top seed West Valley plays four-seed North Pole in the other semifinal. The winners of both semifinals are guaranteed a spot in the state championship in Wasilla on Feb. 9-11.
The Crimson Bears will look to assistant captains Tod Baseden and Marc Heifetz to lead on the ice. Forward Baseden will shift onto a line with sophomore Cole Cheeseman to harden up the defense and top league player Heifetz will continue to help break the puck out to help give the Crimson Bears the good numbers through the neutral zone.
JDHS has been working on blue line attacks, getting three players involved in the offense, and if that doesn’t work then placing the puck deep into the zone and retrieving with possession in mind.
Freshman Zach Hebert has been rewarded for his hard work all season and will travel with the varsity. Hebert has notched varsity goals the past three series.
“He plays a pretty simple game,” McKenna said. “He is all about hard work. Every time he is out on the ice he makes something happen.”
Baseden, Heifetz, Dillon Tomaro, Dalton L’Allier and Ethan Seid are primary scores for JDHS. Grant Ainsworth, Cheeseman, Kaipo Tseu, Kevin Sigler, Michael Dale, Matthew Campbell, Connor Brown, and Zach Easton have found majority time on the ice. Kathryn Noreen, Logan Moser, Chase Barnum, and Shane Moller have played quality minutes when on the ice.
JDHS needs Colter Pritchard, Grifin Bozarth or Neal Chapman to bring the goals against average to fewer than three and all are capable of doing that.
JDHS is also trying to clean up the penalty calls and although last weekend’s scorebooks showed 17 whistles against the Crimson Bears, they were deceiving.
“Our sticks were low,” McKenna said. “That is important to me. They called it close but it wasn’t as reckless as it was before. The big part of that is playing defense with your stick on the ice and under control. We are not a big team that is going to bang people through the glass. We have to play smart defense, which happens with your feet and your stick on the ice. We won’t win games by intimidating people or running them through the boards.”
Lathrop is a traditionally strong team. This season they rely on two key players for offense: Connor Nilson and Maxwell Blankenship. Nilson has scored 26 points on the season (15 goals, 11 assists) and Blankenship 24 (12 goals, 12 asts.). Logan Parsley has tallied six goals and nine assists and no other Malemutes’ player has more than four pucks in the net. Nilson tallied three goals and one assist against JDHS early this year at Treadwell and teammate Joshua Clifton scored twice with one assist.
“In years past they have had three or four lines and were hard to tell apart,” McKenna said. “They are a little less deep, but they have one very strong and skilled line. We match up okay with them.”
That early Dec. meeting was a 7-2 wake up call loss for the Crimson Bears who came back the next night and skated to a 1-1 draw.
“We have to play aggressive defense,” McKenna said “You can’t sit back against a skilled offense or they will take advantage. We are looking at this as a great opportunity. I would just like to think that we show up ready to compete and give them a game. We have never had a better opportunity to qualify for the state tournament. We are not focusing so much on Lathrop as we are on ourselves.”
The Crimson Bears have beaten Lathrop only once, 2-1 on Dec. 12, 2009, the day that five players were injured in a car accident driving to that morning contest at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The five were treated at the hospital while their teammates played an inspired game to win. Then seniors Robin Woodby and John Kenyon were flown back to Juneau ahead of the team with a concussion and fractured pelvis, respectively.
Now the team has to rally again.
“I have been better,” Zigarlick said. “I am just trying to be confident. I know we can beat Lathrop and I know my teammates can really do it. We have to come out with momentum, that is our difficulty. A lot of times we get behind and can’t catch up, so we have to come out and play hard and fast. Get ahead early and maintain it. What I have liked about this team is we all get along. It is more like you are coming to hang out with all your best friends than you are coming to practice, even when you know one of those days is a tough practice there are 16 other guys there with you doing it. It is a great group of guys.”