The Juneau-Douglas High School boys hockey team will be back in action this weekend following a three-week break for the holidays.
The Crimson Bears will host the Homer Mariners tonight at 8 at the Treadwell Ice Arena and again at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Saturday's game will be senior night, and the team's six seniors will be recognized during an intermission ceremony.
This year's seniors were freshmen when Juneau began its hockey program during the 2005-06 season following the construction of the Treadwell Ice Arena. Nolin Ainsworth, John Carlson, Chris Klawonn, Josh Mayer and Albert Svensson have all been an integral part of building the program from its fledgling roots four years ago.
"This is the group that started it all," second-year coach Dave McKenna said. "They've been playing four years, and it's a pretty big deal for them to be playing their final games at home. They are tough kids, and they always play with a lot of heart."
A sixth senior, Andreas Keller, an exchange student from Switzerland, is in his first year with the Crimson Bears. McKenna credits him for elevating the play of the rest of the team.
"He's a natural goal scorer and a super hard worker," McKenna said. "He always brings a positive attitude to the rink and is just a real class act."
The Bears (10-4 overall, 2-2 Mid-Alaska Conference) are coming off a split against nonconference rival Tok on Dec. 19-20. Juneau shut out Tok 9-0 on Dec. 19, but lost a heartbreaker in overtime the following night, 4-3.
McKenna says he's not very concerned about the idle time the past few weeks, but he says it may take a little bit for the team to get going.
"We might be a little rusty, but the break also gave us a lot of time to work on things in practice," McKenna said. "Mostly, the kids will be hungry to play."
Juneau defeated the Mariners 7-0 earlier this season in the first game of the Homer Tournament that Juneau won in November. However, McKenna expects more from Homer this time around.
"Homer plays a really tough schedule, which tends to make a team better," McKenna said. "They are hard-working, and we certainly can't take them lightly. I expect an improved Homer team."
McKenna says he'd like to see his team set the pace and level of play while executing things they've been working on in practice.
"We have a tendency to play up or down to the competition. We don't have the exposure to the better players in state, so we really have to pace ourselves," he said.
The home fan support has been a big factor for the team this season. Standing-room-only has been the norm for home games as support has been exceptional.
"It's a great environment to go into - it really makes it all worthwhile. The fans get riled up when we score a goal and add a great element to the game. We are very appreciative of the support we get from our fans," McKenna said.
Next week, the Crimson Bears will close out their home schedule with a pair of nonconference games against Monroe Catholic on Jan. 16-17. Juneau wraps up its conference schedule with four games in Fairbanks on Jan. 28-31 - two games against West Valley and two against North Pole.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.