The Crimson Bears hoped this weekend’s senior night would be a relaxed celebration for those hockey players who are playing on home ice for the final time.
Suddenly, the two games against Houston Jan. 7-8 have turned out to be the most crucial of the season.
Juneau-Douglas just completed a road trip during which it played four games in five days against conference opponents North Pole and West Valley, going 0-3-1 in the process.
JDHS lost 3-2 against North Pole on Friday night but bounced back Saturday afternoon for a tie and a point in the conference standings.
West Valley was a different story as the Bears suffered two 5-1 losses on both Monday and Tuesday.
“The positives to take from this trip, we were able to scrap for a point,” JDHS coach Dave McKenna said. “I felt like our effort was good and we learned to play a little smarter as the games went on. But every game means a lot from here on out.
“We’re learning to compete as we go, and hopefully that’ll get us into the playoffs.”
Despite being unable to muster a win on the trip, McKenna said the improvement is there, especially when considering the margin of defeat Juneau-Douglas suffered against the same teams last season. North Pole and West Valley went 4-0 against the Bears last year, outscoring JDHS 30-11 in the four contests combined. McKenna said even getting the tie in the road trip’s second game is progress. And though the team was outscored 10-2 by West Valley over the last two days, he said the games were much closer than the scores indicated.
“It’s not as much ground as you hoped to make up, but it is reassuring to see us making strides,” he said. “The kids all know what we need to do better and I think it’s within reach, but it does take time to do it consistently. It really takes playing smart over the full 45 minutes of the game.
“I do feel good about our efforts out there but I’d love to see a different score,” he continued. “But these teams have a lot of firepower and offensive skill, and that is often what drives the score up like that.”
Currently, the Crimson Bears sit in last place in the conference with one point, while the Hawks from Houston head to Juneau in fourth place with two points.
The top four teams will advance to the Mid-Alaska Conference playoffs, which makes this weekend anything but a relaxed celebration.
JDHS (7-9-1, 0-5-1) hosts Houston on Friday and Saturday. Houston has five conference games left.
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