With temperatures dipping past minus-10 degrees (minus-20 with wind), the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey skates didn’t shave off ice on turns. Instead the blades squeaked and cried like cats wielding chalk on a black board.
“One of our kids said it was so cold it felt like Soviet Russia,” JDHS coach Luke Adams said of the outdoor rink at Healy on Thursday. “It wasn’t snowing but it was blowing snow. Our boys were heading into the warming hut after every shift and (Tri-Valley) just sat on the bench.”
Arriving in Fairbanks on Wednesday, the Crimson Bears drove roughly three hours over the George Parks Highway in Interior Alaska to Healy, located 11 miles north of the entrance to the Denali National Park and Preserve.
It was only fitting that in a section of the state known for outstanding wildlife, the Mid Alaska Conference Crimson Bears would play against the home team Greatland Conference Tri-Valley Warriors in “the ice pit,” one of the last Alaska high school outdoor hockey rinks.
There may not have been a standing room only crowd, but there was a view of the Alaska Range.
“Tri-Valley was one of the first hockey teams to ever come to Juneau,” Adams said. “I remember that and I try to repay that courtesy whenever we can.”
The IA Warriors were outmatched against the 4A Crimson Bears, at least in hockey skills.
“They are sure used to playing outside in this climate,” Adams said. “We had hats, scarves and hand warmers stuffed in every part of our uniforms.”
The Crimson Bears won 7-1. First period goals came from Zach Hebert (assists Cole Cheeseman, Grant Ainsworth), Josh Lanham (Cheeseman, Shane Moller) and Corey Box (Ethan Seid). Second period scores came from Lanham (Logan Coleman, Kathryn Noreen), Cheeseman (Luke Sewell, Coleman). Third period goals were Chase Barnum and Sewell (Kate Metcalf, Logan Moser). Tri-Valley’s Richie Stickle scored in the third (assists Stony Yanuchi, David Hayes). JDHS’ Neal Chapman stopped 15 shots, Tri-Valley’s Ethan Graham 28.
The score was not as important as the ceremony after the game.
“They always have the teams skate across the ice and share a barbeque together,” Adams said. “They are a small school but they have a lot to offer in the sense of something that our kids don’t get to experience.”
On Thursday the Crimson Bears faced conference foe Lathrop.
The Malemutes scored at 11:35 of the first period from Colton Meier (assist Chad Horn) and 7:00 of the second as Horn found the net unassisted.
Trailing 2-0 heading into the final period the Crimson Bears took over the sheet of ice and skated off with a 3-2 win.
“They got a couple good bounces and we were down,” Adams said. “We refocused in the locker room, turned up the energy level and our kids rallied. They just amped it up.”
The Crimson Bears struck off a draw by Lahnum at 14:34 as Ainsworth found the puck and put it in (assist Lanham) and momentum laced up in the JDHS skates. Lanham scored at 8:06 (assist Seid) and Zach Easton put in the game winner at 2:57 (assist Zach Hebert).
“Our kids knew they had more to give,” Adams said. “All they focused on was playing to the best of their ability and not saving anything for tomorrow. We created some momentum and never let go.”
JDHS’ Chapman turned aside 34 frozen black discs and Lathrop’s Ryan Ebenal stopped 30. JDHS’ Moller was whistled for tripping and Moser for roughing. Lathrop’s Alex Parker was called for hooking, Tristen Ramaker roughing twice and charging, and Meier for holding.
The victory was only the second time the JDHS hockey program has defeated Lathrop.
They never quit on it,” Adams said. “They rallied and they never quit.”
The last time the Crimson Bears beat Lathrop, Adams was being texted the scores from a Fairbanks hospital with four players after their van had been struck in an intersection by a truck that ran a red light. Team members Robin Woodby (fractured neck vertebrae) and John Kenyon (broken pelvis) would miss the remainder of the season and Nick Rutecki and Cole Carnahan were shaken up.
“That was four years ago,” Adams said. “We were getting text updates in the hospital and couldn’t believe what we were reading. This win is pretty cool. I am letting our kids enjoy this as long as we can. Our kids knew what today meant and they played for it. They earned the victory today. It is very humbling really. The kids earned it completely.”
Adams said the team played the grittiest hockey they have skated in a long time, something the Crimson Bears are skilled at.
“After playing North Pole we reassessed where we are at,” Adams said. “Where we need to be. We see ourselves as a team full of laborers and we are not going to be the most skilled team on any given ice surface, but if we can get pucks to the net and crash the net and get the goals that may not be pretty, we will be in a lot more games. We have amped up our physicality and we are trying to keep it really simple.”
The two wins put the Crimson Bears record at 4-5. JDHS will face Lathrop again tonight and play at West Valley on Saturday. The Crimson Bears return to home ice on Dec. 19 when they host Tri-Valley and Dec. 20-21 against Homer.