Hockey in Juneau has been catapulted into the sports limelight over night.
This last weekend the Juneau Hockey Team played in the Haines Junction Invitational Hockey Tournament in the Yukon and won it all. The victory is the result of the sweat and effort of the 27 men and women who call themselves The Juneau Hockey Team. That's right, Juneau has a hockey team, and has had one for over 10 years. This small band of dedicated individuals has gone about the business of hockey for over decade in Juneau in relative obscurity. The teams' accomplishment last weekend deserve to be recognized by the community, which they represent.
For those of you who know the geography of hockey you may well understand the magnitude of the teams' victory. For those who do not, allow me to explain.
First, unless we forget, Juneau does not have a skating rink. The players' practices are conducted on a flooded baseball field at Melvin Park and at Twin Lakes. The teams' season stretches a whopping 2-4 weeks weather permitting. In this short time frame the team must vie for ice space with scores of other local residents who dream of a day when Juneau builds an ice facility worthy of a capital city. The minor details of hockey for the Juneau team are equally problematic. For example, where do you purchase a stick or even a puck?
In contrast, hockey in Canada is illuminated in an almost religious light. I have heard it said that refrigerated ice is a birthright of every Canadian citizen who has the temerity to lace up the skates and lay the hurt down.
Haines Junction has refrigerated ice and begins laying the hurt down in October and stops in April. They sell hockey sticks in their grocery store.
On a national scale, Canadians recently voted on a referendum that posed the question of whether the federal government should subsidize National Hockey League teams within Canada. Local Canadian newspapers dedicate about 80% of their sports coverage to hockey leaving football, basketball and baseball to fight for the remaining space.
If you have begun to envision a David v. Goliath matchup, you're starting to get the picture.
The tournament is a three-day event, which begins on Friday and culminates in the championship round on Sunday afternoon. Ten teams participate. The teams hail from Inuveik, North-west Territories to Juneau.
The teams are divided into two divisions. The ``A'' division is com-prised of the more skilled and expe-rienced players and consists of four teams. The age of the ``A'' division generally ranges between 25 to 45. The ``B'' division has the most diver-sity in player makeup and consists of six teams.
The youngest players fielded are Luke Erickson and William Dahl who are both in their early teens and both from Juneau. The oldest player is from Haines Junction and goes by the name ``Fossil.'' He is 75 years old. The Juneau and Mt. Loren ``B'' sides are the only teams to field women, Linda Dahl from Juneau and Val Drummond for Mt. Loren.
Coming into the championship round the Juneau ``B'' team was eliminated from competition after three hard fought losses and one causality. The goalie Russell Hardy, affectionately known as ``dog hole'' by his teammates, suffered a shoul-der injury in the second game. Vet-eran Art Bloom replaced Hardy. His stellar performance between the pipes in the final ``B'' division game earned him the MVP Award.
The Juneau ``A'' team entered the final round as the only undefeat-ed ``A'' division team. To win it all Juneau would have to defeat last year's champions Haines Junction. Juneau had previously defeated Haines Junction in seeding round, but the Junction rallied for two vic-tories to earn a spot in the final round.
Juneau fell behind by two goals early in the first period against the speedy Junction team. At 5:06 of the first period Juneau responded with a tally of their own when right wing Dave Kovach let go a blistering snap shot from the high slot area that sailed past the goalie. The excellent face off work and passing of center Kevin Hand assisted in the goal.
In the waning moments of the first period Juneau banged home an-other goal to tie the game. Again, it was Kovach who answered the call. Dale Erickson received a pass from Dave McKenna and shot towards the Junction net. The puck caromed off a player in front of the net and land-ed at Kovach's feet, who wasted no time in burying the biscuit in the gaping net left by the sprawled out goal tender.
The first eighteen minutes of the second period saw no scoring. How-ever, Juneau's physical size and play began to takes its toll on the faster Junction team. Art Hughes received a two minute roughing pen-alty when he launched a Junction player through the air depositing him onto the Junction goalie. As the minutes clicked off the clock both teams knew the next goal would probably be the winning goal. Ju-neau struck first. At 2:07 of the final period Steve Woods broke out of the Juneau zone with the puck and placed a perfect pass on the tape of Hughes' stick as he crossed into the Junction zone. Fighting off the hook of an opposing player, Hughes deked the goalie to the left and backhanded the puck over the goalie into the net.
Juneau 3, Haines Junction 2 with 1:53 left in the game.
In a desperate effort to tie the game Junction pulled their goalie for the extra attacker. The effort failed. Hughes shot a loose puck into the empty net from center ice to clinch a 4-2 victory.
There will always be hockey in Juneau. If there is never a rink built, or a place to buy a decent hockey stick, or other written accounts of victorious games, hockey will still prosper. That is because there will always be a young girl or boy on a brisk winter afternoon who slings their skates over their shoulder, picks up their homemade stick and grabs the family dog by the leash and heads down to the pond. For in the end we come to play the grand old game of hockey simply for the love of the game.