It's been a season of growth for the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team.
The Crimson Bears set new records in scoring and wins in their second season, as they've evolved from an inexperience squad into a battle-tested team.
JDHS (11-9) finishes the season this weekend with two games against Monroe Catholic (11-7-1) at Treadwell Arena.
"Our practices are really looking like real high school practices," Foster said. "I couldn't say that last year at all. Last year was teaching them how to go fast and pass and receive. That was the whole season."
The team has progressed so much that the Crimson Bears are looking into joining the Mid-Alaska Conference next season, Foster said.
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The Mid-Alaska Conference features Class 4A Fairbanks schools Lathrop, North Pole and West Valley. Small-school powerhouse Houston will also join the league next season.
Currently, JDHS plays as an independent and competes against mainly Class 2A and 3A competition.
"We're good enough to get our butts kicked in the 4A, which is the learning that we need," Foster said. "We're to the point where we got the snot kicked out of us the first year by 2A schools and we need to put ourselves back in that position. They need to understand we have that road to travel, but we've moved up a notch."
Before all that happens, however, JDHS will look to seal its first winning season as it takes on the Rams.
It will also mark the end of the high school careers of seniors James Gamez, Trevor Lyden and Alex Vick. Fellow seniors T.J. Preston and Ian Nankervis played their final games last weekend against Delta Junction.
Who: Juneau-Douglas vs Monroe Catholic.
When: 8 p.m. tonight, 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Treadwell Arena.
What's at stake? Juneau-Douglas can seal its first winning season with at least a tie in one of the two games.
Foster lauded Lyden's commitment to the team.
"What struck me with him was the way he would go down on his knees to stop shots and still gather the puck and make a pass on his knees," Foster said. "That's a level of commitment you don't see in a lot of hockey players in high school. It warms a coach's heart."
Vick, a goaltender, has split time throughout the season with teammates Kelsey Preston and freshman Sam Post.
More than his talent between the pipes, the Bears will miss his attitude and character.
"We're really going to miss him," Foster said. "Alex Vick is a personality that cannot be denied. Alex is very vocal and positive, positive, positive."
Gamez has been a rock this season. The Crimson Bears' captain has been the team's steadiest competitor and provided perhaps the season's highlight.
His goal with 3.5 seconds left in overtime to beat Delta Junction 6-5 on Jan. 20 catapulted JDHS to its 11th win.
"On the ice itself, our captain, James Gamez has been a solid rock of a personality and of moral character," Foster said. "He was an excellent choice of captain and he earned it."
This weekend, however, Gamez said he's looking forward to watching the future of the team.
"I think the freshmen will surprise everyone with the improvement they made this year," Gamez said. "At the beginning of the year ... most of them couldn't pass to the stick. Now they're taking slapshots and making accurate passes. I'm excited to see them play most of all."
Juneau-Douglas freshmen Logan Miller, Robin Woodby and Zane Chapman will play on the same line this weekend.
"I think it'll be great because we've been skating together before high school, and we know each other because we're friends," Woodby said of the freshman line. "It'll be great to see how everything comes together. It'll be really good."
Regardless of this weekend's outcome, this team will be recognized as a significant step in the progression of Juneau hockey.
A team of diverse personalities and talent levels, this year's Crimson Bears have shown they can hang with some of Alaska's more established programs.
"It's kind of weird because we're all different, but when the puck drops we come together as a family," Vick said. "In the locker room we goof around but as soon as the game starts we get together."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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