Evolution on ice

Treadwell Arena opens door for locals of all ages and skill to compete, have fun

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

In 2003, the city and borough of Juneau built Treadwell Arena with the hope of promoting ice sports for all ages. Today, that hope has turned to reality.

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Seven years later, Juneau has a prominent hockey community, and the Juneau Skating Club, founded in 2003 as a skill-based program, has become an official member of the United States Figure Skating Association.

Recently, Dzantik'i Heeni eighth-grader Rosie Jones became the first skater ever to represent the JSC in the regional championships in Medford, Ore., where she placed fifth overall in the Juvenile Girls division.

Pam Leary, Jones' coach, said this is just the beginning of her vision for the club as she hopes there will be more success and growth of skating in Juneau into the future.

"My long-term goal is to have a thriving figure skating club with skaters in the pipeline being competitive at the regional, sectional and national level," she said. "That would be a huge success story because there are a lot of issues."

She said the biggest issues are financial because of the cost of equipment and travel.

"Considering how isolated Juneau is, figure skating can be a very expensive sport," she said. "At this point, skaters must travel outside of Juneau to test and compete, or official judges must be brought to Juneau to test the kids."

For Jones, skating has turned out to be a big part of life. Regionals became a goal for her after last year's national Junior Men's competition silver medalist, Keegan Messing, also from Alaska, skated in the JSC's spring recital last April.

Jones had the fortune of training with Messing's coach, Ralph Burghart, a seven-time Austrian national champion and Olympic competitor, as well as J.J. Matthews, a U.S. national medalist and Junior Olympian, last summer while Treadwell Arena was closed.

She said the best part of having the JSC and Treadwell Arena is the fact that it brought skating into her life.

"I'd say it gives you something to look forward to after school and before school, and it really challenges me," she said. "Overall, I like that I have to work and practice to achieve my goals, which are to pass my intermediate moves in the field and free-skate test. After that, I'll be in the novice level."

When asked if she would be skating if Treadwell Arena was never built, Jones answered quickly.

"Definitely not," she said. "It's great."

She said she has enjoyed the time she spends with all her coaches, both in Juneau and in Anchorage. While she was able to address specific issues with Burghart and Matthews during the summer in Anchorage, she said Leary has been an all-around great coach for her.

"(Pam Leary) helps me with everything," she said. "Spins, jumps, and mainly my individual programs and choreography."

As far as being recognized as an official club of the USFSA, Jones said she was somewhat indifferent.

"To tell you the truth, it didn't really make a difference to me. It's cool, but I just go there to skate," she said. "It's cool to be known as a club and everything, but I think it was more of an impact to my parents and coaches."

Jones, who will be paying attention to the Olympics next month, said that although it would be great to be there someday, it's important to take baby steps.

Pam Leary said the JSC's status with the USFSA is important because it gives the kids exposure.

"It allows our skaters to participate in the official tests that qualify you to compete at certain regional, sectional and national competitions," she said. "What we are now able to do is get our kids that are skating on track into those competitive programs, so that's a huge milestone for the club."

Today, Juneau figure skaters travel outside the city/borough to train, test and compete in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seattle, Ft. Collins, Colo., Medford, Ore., and Minnesota, something that many would have considered a pipe dream only eight years ago.

The growth of hockey in Juneau

Because of the arena, people are skating and playing hockey that have never before set foot on ice indoors.

The JSC also offers a basic hockey skills class, which is always at maximum capacity.

Ian Leary, a coach in the Juneau Douglas Ice Association, said he is pleased with how far hockey has come since the arena was built, but there is still more work to do.

"It's been extremely helpful for the hockey program because we didn't really have any youth hockey before the arena was opened," he said. "Adults would play on the lakes the few times they were frozen each year, then they would play roller-hockey on the covered playgrounds at various schools. They would put a rag-tag team together to go to some tournaments in the Yukon, but that was the extent of their hockey."

He said since the rink has been here, the hockey program has grown from infancy to what it is now, although there are still growing pains.

"It's hard for us to compete against other programs in the state because of lack of competition and how expensive it is to get teams to come here, or for us to go places," he said. "We are handcuffed a little in that sense, but we're still producing individuals that have gone to more competitive programs."

With indoor hockey in Juneau only seven years old, one would expect the number of players to be growing. Ian Leary said that's not necessarily the case.

"To be honest with you, the numbers have not grown lately. They seem to be stagnant the last couple of years," he said. "As a coach, I'd like to see the numbers improve greatly because part of the problem within the program is that when you only have enough for two teams in each age group, you have difficulty developing a competitive nature between the two teams because you have a wide variety of skill."

He said due to uncontrollable situations, kids might move away, become disinterested or get involved in other sports, hurting the overall number of kids involved in hockey.

So while hockey in Juneau has grown and become more competitive, there is still a gap between it and programs from places like Anchorage and Fairbanks. While it is more difficult to compete year-round, given that Treadwell Arena is closed during the summer, Ian Leary has an idea for creating a more competitive atmosphere for Juneau's youth hockey players.

"The youth hockey program has to have a two-tier system in order to build more competitive teams," he said. "What I mean by that is you have to have a competitive league where you can have tryouts and you can select teams from that tryout that have similar skill and ability.

"So you wouldn't have a 13-year-old kid who has played hockey for six or seven years playing in the same division as the same-aged kid who's only been playing hockey for two years. It's a complex sport. It's not just one discipline."

He referred to the fact that with other sports, players are born with the ability to run using their legs, but in hockey, one must learn to skate before even learning the game.

"If you put your time in you'll get better, but there is more to it, I think, than other sports as far as the amount of time it takes to build the skills to be a better player," he said. "The main thing we need is to be able to have teams that can compete against; more skilled teams as well. You can't take less-skilled players or new players to the game, or players that are just there to have fun that don't have the competitive drive but still want to play hockey. You have to have a mechanism to separate those two groups."

Ian Leary believes if the two groups are separated, a more competitive brand of hockey can be created in Juneau by pitting the most competitive players against each other.

Though there is always room for growth, Ian Leary still appreciates what the arena has brought to the community.

"I would rank (Treadwell Arena) right up there with Eaglecrest. It's a very healthy environment where everybody is getting exercise," he said. "It's not outdoors, but the air is cold and has this taste like a hockey rink, which is similar to being outdoors. It's a family-friendly place and everybody looks out for each other like they do at Eaglecrest.

"It's had a huge positive impact on the community."

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