Never has the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team been better served by its farm teams, the Juneau Douglas Ice Association and the Crimson Bears Junior Varsity, than this season.
“We are starting to get more numbers for the high school,” JDHS head coach Luke Adams said. “What that tells me is there are more kids that want to play at a competitive level. What we are trying to do with our JV program is to continue that development because our high school program is our competitive program. We don’t have youth competitive hockey, it is all recreational and we have a great relationship with JDIA and try to work with them and reciprocate with them. Share knowledge and insight.”
Adams moves into the head coaching position this season, switching spots with Dave McKenna. Adams has been on the JDHS staff since the hockey program’s inception and later its progress in the Mid-Alaska Conference. McKenna had been head coach since 2007. Assistant Matt Boline and JV coach Jay Lloyd return as well.
“Something new this year is that we are having a late night practice once a week,” Adams said. “The Monday night rink time will allow JDIA kids to watch and see what we are doing. And we wanted our high school kids to see that people care what they are doing and how they are acting in practice. It also fights the burnout of a long season. Having to wake up early one less morning will give us a little less quantity of practice but more quality.”
JDHS graduated nine seniors and lost one undergrad to travel. The Crimson Bears were looking for skaters to step up, and they got more than a few.
Leading the charge will be one of the fastest skaters in the state in senior Ethan Seid, alogn with classmates Logan Coleman, Zach Easton, Neal Chapman, Liam McDermott and Kathryn Noreen.
“What we are doing right now is seeing who fits with who,” Adams said. “We are pushing for our kids to be a little more dynamic and be open to playing defense or forward depending on the situation. We are really asking kids to get out of their comfort zones.”
Adams cited junior Cole Cheeseman as an example.
“He has always been a solid D-man,” Adams said. “But he can be one of our more dangerous forwards at any given time if we give him the space. So we are going to encourage our defensive players to join the rush a lot more. We are trying to utilize our more skilled players. When we need them to play a little more of a defensive role, we will play them at defense, but we will also give them the green light to start the plays and be more aggressive.”
Seid is described by coaches as the JDHS energy guy and an absolutely fierce competitor.
“He is the type of guy we ask to do what is necessary at any given moment,” Adams said. “He can change the energy of the game and he is the kid that pumps up the team when we need that momentum boost.”
Coleman is the utility guy who will play a lot of different roles. Historically a defender, his bulk and strength will find more time at forward, developing into a grinder and providing the big guy presence.
“He is the type of kid that says ‘whatever it takes’ and he is just an all around great kid,” Adams said.
Easton is the slippery guy on the ice who gets through the plays, finds a way to get on the goal and is very dangerous in the open.
Chapman, the goalie, is a competitor in the net, and that position will be relied on a lot more than previous seasons.
McDermott, another senior goalie, returns to the team after spending time attending school in Seattle.
“He and Neal (Chapman) will be in a competition all year,” Adams said. “They are going to push each other.”
Kathryn Noreen is one of the smartest players on the ice and one of the better defenders. Noreen continues to earn solid ice time as one of four females on the program’s roster and one of two who will share the varsity ice. New from Minnesota is sophomore forward Kate Metcalf, a very skilled player who will increase the quality of varsity practices while swinging between the two programs (Natalie Johansen and Amy Spencer are on JV).
The Crimson Bears also received a talent boost courtesy of Anchorage hockey foe Service High School.
Senior forward Josh Lahnum transferred from the Cougars to the Treadwell Arena ice this season and will make an immediate impact.
“He will bring a different dynamic to the team that we haven’t had because of his experience,” Adams said. “He is an all around, very skilled and talented player and he will push the rest of our kids, in training especially. He has a high level of competitiveness and plays fast. Most importantly, what we are seeing is that he is an all-round good kid. He is fitting in with the kids and is earning their respect.”
According to Adams, the Crimson Bears returning junior class are going to be pivotal. Cheeseman, Grant Ainsworth, and Michael Dale proved their value on the ice last season.
“They are a very committed group,” Adams said. “They were extremely committed in the off-season. In a lot of respects they are leaders on the team as well. Kids respect them and look up to them.”
Ainsworth, a forward, brings a committed focus and presence to the team and is the guy coaches look forward to seeing develop.
“He has a lot of potential to be one of the better players in our conference,” Adams said.
Dale is a defensive anchor on the team. He’s considered to be a very strong and poised player who will have a pivotal role as the stay-at-home defender, which allows the Crimson Bears to move other players on the attack.
“It takes a patience to be able to read and react,” Adams said. “At the same time there is not a lot of glory in that position. Those players don’t ask for a lot. They don’t care about being the big goal scorer. Sure they want to, but they find the glory in being that defensive guy. It is an extremely team-first attitude. And Michael is a great defender.”
Players who will make an impact in their first varsity season include junior forward Logan Moser, junior defender Shane Moller, sophomore forward Zach Hebert, sophomore defenders Chase Barnum and Ryan Moritz, and freshmen defenders Ryan Liebelt and Corey Box.
Moser will bring a strong physical presence in the line up; Moller, one of the most committed off season trainers, has developed into a skill player with an extremely dedicated approach that will produce ice minutes; Hebert is an offensive specialist with the uncanny ability to get to the net and put the puck in; Moritz is a physical player and good competitor who will swing between both programs; Barnum is a smart and calm player that can compete for minutes at forward and defense; and Box and Liebelt will also compete for varsity minutes.
“We have a very good large freshman/sophomore group with the JV’s, and they are all going to be pushing the older kids,” Adams said. “Which is a great thing to have. We are trying to build our program and take it to the next level. I think we have some really good things going right now and the kids have responded well to the new players and we are going to try and compete with Lathrop and West Valley and figure a way to win the conference this year.”
The Crimson Bears junior varsity will play at Dimond (Thursday), West Valley (Friday) and Eagle River (Saturday), while the varsity will open its season by hosting the Soldotna Stars on Nov. 15-16 at Treadwell Arena.