With the regular season drawing closer to its end, the Crimson Bears’ final two games will be their most important to date.
Juneau-Douglas hockey will play host to the Houston Hawks beginning tonight at Treadwell Arena for two crucial Mid-Alaska Conference games that will go a long way in clearing up the conference’s playoff picture.
The Hawks currently sit in fourth place in the MAC with two points while the Bears are looking up in the standings with one point. But despite being down with only two conference games left to play, Crimson Bears coach Dave McKenna said two wins would go a long way for his squad’s playoff hopes.
“Anything can happen on any given night, but all we can do is look at the things we have control over,” he said. “I do feel good about coming off some games that were very fast-paced. The kids put in good effort and worked really hard before the trip.
“I think we’ll be ready when Houston comes to town.”
The Bears split the season series with the Hawks last year, losing 2-1 in the first game and winning 4-1 in the second. But McKenna said this year’s Houston team is improved.
“They had a very short bench last year — maybe they didn’t have very many players,” he said. “This year I know they’ve had a kind of resurgence and they’re riding a wave of momentum now that they have more than a single line. It’s nice to have fresh legs on the bench.”
Perhaps that is a good thing for the Crimson Bears, however. McKenna said his group tends to play better in the tougher matchups.
“We’ve had a tendency to play at the other team’s level — our level of play is affected by the other team,” he said. “We need to be ready to come out and set the pace early on, play our game and do everything we can to get pucks in the net.
“Really, it’s a matter of intensity and willingness to compete on our part.”
With a playoff spot on the line the attention will certainly be focused on the game results, but this weekend’s senior night is also the last chance to play in front of the home crowd for the eight members of the JDHS Class of 2011.
“This senior group has been great. We’ve had some good leadership emerge as the season progressed,” he said. “Guys like Eric Verrelli and Trever Held really stepped up their level of play. Then you have a group of guys that really work hard, even when they’re not the ones in the limelight — Taylor Lehnhart, Ben Peyton and Matthew Whistler — that just work hard day in and day out and have their whole career. “
Peyton Millay, Cole Carnahan and Garret Cheeseman will join their aforementioned teammates for Saturday’s senior night ceremonies.
“All the seniors are nothing but class and character, and they’ll be missed, that’s for sure,” McKenna said.
Juneau-Douglas (7-9-1, 0-5-1) will face off at 8 p.m. tonight against Houston at Treadwell Arena. The puck will drop at 7 p.m. on Saturday. This is the last series of the year for the Crimson Bears. The Hawks still must play North Pole, West Valley and Lathrop one time apiece before final playoff seedings are determined.
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