For a team that started the season unsure of what the future held, the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team hopes to end its inaugural year with a bang.
The Crimson Bears (2-6) conclude their first season this weekend with two games against visiting Hutchison (2-5). Friday's face-off at Treadwell Arena is 8:15 p.m. while the puck drops at 7 p.m. Saturday.
For JDHS, ending the season with three or four wins in 10 games would be a tremendous starting point for the program
"As a beginning team, it would be like, 'O.K., wow, we can do well. It wasn't a fluke that we won those other games, we can compete in our division,'" JDHS senior winger Dane Harlamert said. "It would be great for the team."
Since opening the season with two blowout losses to Tri-Valley, Juneau-Douglas exhibited tremendous growth. The Crimson Bears managed just three goals and were outshot 111-22 in the Dec. 9-10 loss to the Viking Warriors.
who: crimson bears vs. hutchison.
when: 8:15 p.m. friday, 7 p.m. saturday.
where: treadwell arena.
what: these are the final games of the season.
JDHS has scored 28 goals, a respectable 4.7 goals per game average, since dropping its first two games.
"It's crazy, just at the practice I was talking to coach (Steve Foster) and it came up how much we'd like to have Tri-Valley come back so we can test ourselves against them," Harlamert said. "Our skating has come on so much. Tri-Valley skated around us. I'm surprised we got a goal. Lately, we've had a lot more speed. Just knowing where we're supposed to be and playing as a team."
One of the remarkable aspects surrounding Juneau-Douglas' inaugural season is how the team learned through game experience to apply different hockey principles.
After mustering 22 shots in two games against Tri-Valley, JDHS immediately addressed the need to generate more offense.
In its next series against Delta Junction on Jan. 6-7, JDHS scored seven goals in two losses. More impressively, the team recorded 43 shots on goal in two games and scored more goals then the Huskies in the third period of the 11-4 loss on Jan. 7.
After Delta Junction, JDHS thoroughly dominated Nikiski to earn 12-4 and 6-0 wins on Jan. 13-14.
Last weekend JDHS fell to Greatland Conference-leading Houston twice, 12-1 and 11-2.
Despite the lopsided scores, the Crimson Bears managed to create offense and took away valuable information about themselves from the defeat.
"We just had our last practice today but we've been working really hard and learned a lot from this last game," Bears freshman winger Albert Svensson said. "We've been playing pretty got but they really out-hustled us. They're fast skaters.
"We learned we need to work a little harder if we want to get to more loose pucks. If we can beat them to the puck, we can get more shots on goal and more scoring. It's all in the first three strides."
In preparation for this weekend's games, JDHS spent more practice time this week on cycling the puck.
By keeping the puck in the corners of the offensive zone, the Crimson Bears hope to generate more offense by passing to the slot and in the crease for shots.
"It came along quite well," Harlamert said. "It started off horrible with people not really knowing where to go or how to do it. Twenty minutes through it we started hitting our passes and going where we were supposed to be."
The future appears bright for the JDHS hockey team.
Goaltenders Kelsey Preston, a sophomore, and junior Alex Vick have been solid throughout the season while the team boasts 16 underclassmen and five juniors.
The team's three seniors - Harlamert, defenseman Zach Krehlik and captain Riley Hall - won't be on the team next year. They, however, will always carry the distinction of being part of the Crimson Bears' first hockey team.
"We want to win this for our seniors so they can say they won almost half their games," Svensson said. "It'd be good to go out with a lot of confidence."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org