Saturday was just one of those nights for the Crimson Bears JV hockey team.
Juneau-Douglas put the puck in the net early in the second period to tie the game 1-1, but Susitna Valley scored five unanswered goals over the final 21 minutes to take out the homestanding JV Bears 6-1 at Treadwell Arena.
The short-handed Rams shook off their tired legs from the night before and outplayed the Crimson Bears down the stretch to grab their first win of the season.
“They wanted it more. They got rid of their travel legs and they played with a little more sense of purpose, and we lost our defensive focus,” JDHS coach Dave McKenna said. “We’re a young team and the experience is invaluable. It was great to have these guys here and it was about the right level of competition for us right now.”
Even though the Bears had nine bench players to the Rams’ two, Su Valley maintained a level of physicality that took Juneau-Douglas off its game toward the end of the second period and throughout the final frame.
“They have big kids, too, and that’s what we’re looking for with the JV program is to get some exposure to a little bit more intensity than you have in the youth league here,” McKenna said. “I think the kids learned a lot from it. It was a good weekend.”
The Bears’ lone goal came early in the second period and seemed to shift the momentum back to the home team after the Rams jumped up 1-0 in the first period. Junior Jordann Russell scored off an assist from senior Peyton Millay, and the ladies connected up for a Juneau-Douglas goal before Su Valley took control. Millay, who two years ago became the first female to score a goal in the history of the Juneau-Douglas hockey program, said this was a different Su Valley team than the night before.
“(Friday) night they came off pretty tired from (traveling), and they only had seven players. They definitely came out harder (Saturday),” she said.
With the varsity preparing for a road trip that features four games in five days against North Pole and West Valley, Millay said the Bears can learn from what happened with Su Valley this weekend.
“This was definitely an eye-opener. Our first games are going to be tough because we’ll be traveling, just like theirs were,” she said. “But the second day should be better. These games totally prepare us (for next week).”
The Rams’ first win of the season was an eventful one. Captain Corey Ambrose started the run with the first of his four goals on the evening, scoring off a Nick Nysewander assist as the puck was deflected over the shoulder of Bears goalie Neal Chapman. Su Valley just steamrolled from there.
Chapman was under constant pressure from the Rams’ offense in what turned out to be a difficult night in goal. Su Valley outshot the Crimson Bears 32-17 and the defense grew stronger as the game progressed during what McKenna called a learning experience for his young squad.
“We had some really good play out of a bunch of people, and it’s good for them to get the different atmosphere of a real game and a real varsity team,” he said. “Those guys didn’t come down here to lose two games and they showed it.”
McKenna also said the defensive letdown was a result of the team trying to get out on offense and score.
“I think we may have been trying to force things, but really we let up on the defensive side. You have to find a way to create opportunities without sacrificing defense,” he said. “That takes some time and experience, but there’s only one way to learn and it’s to have games like that.”
JV Bears take down Rams
The Crimson Bears got their offense going early in the game Friday and Liam McDermott took care of the rest.
The freshman goalie stopped 20 of 21 shots and Juneau-Douglas took advantage of two first-period goals from sophomore Dillon Tomaro on its way to a 3-1 victory over Susitna Valley on Friday night at Treadwell Arena.
Tomaro scored off an assist from sophomore Matthew Campbell halfway through the first period, and added an unassisted goal with 33 seconds left in the opening frame to put the Crimson Bears in control.
Still, the Rams responded late in the second period. Su Valley’s Corey Ambrose took a pass from captains Pat Fitzgerald and Nick Nysewander, slipped into the crease and snuck the puck by McDermott to make the score 2-1 three minutes before the second intermission.
The Crimson Bears responded early in the third period. Freshman Zach Easton capitalized on classmate Logan Coleman’s assist to put JDHS up 3-1 with just less than 12 minutes remaining in the contest.
The Bears had to hold off another late surge by the Rams, but McDermott kept Su Valley’s seven third-period shots out of net to secure the win in the opening game of two JV matchups against the team from Talkeetna over the weekend.
The Crimson Bears outshot the Rams 23-21 Friday night and committed one less penalty than Su Valley.
The Juneau-Douglas varsity hits the road next week for matchups against Mid-Alaska Conference powerhouses North Pole and West Valley, and Bears coach Dave McKenna said he thinks his kids will be ready, even after resting this weekend.
“We’ve been working really hard in practice so I think our conditioning will be there. Anytime you have a two-week layoff there’s always a little rust you have to shake off,” he said. “Every one of these games is really important, so I hope we’re not too rusty.”
The Bears have one more home series against Houston following the upcoming road trip, a series that might decide the two teams’ playoff fate.
“Our senior night and final home games — man, that’s going to be for everything,” he said. “That’s conference playoffs on the line and we’re looking forward to it. It’s anybody’s spot this year.”