The Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team's impressive first season in the 4A Mid-Alaska Conference came to a grinding halt Friday night, as top-seeded Lathrop knocked the fourth-seeded Crimson Bears from the MAC Championships Tournament with a 7-0 shutout at North Pole.
JDHS (14-9 overall, 2-7 MAC) was able to stay within striking distance through the first period against the Malemutes (22-2 overall, 10-0 MAC), but surrendered a quick flurry of four goals early in the second.
"We just let up right off the bat in the second. We came out flat and they sort of knocked the wind out of our sails," JDHS head coach Dave McKenna said. "I thought we kind of dropped our heads after that."
The Crimson Bears rebounded in the third period after a lengthy pep talk from McKenna about sending the team's six seniors out on the right foot. The Juneau-Douglas players responded by allowing just one goal in the final stanza, playing their best period of the game, according to McKenna.
"We played two really good periods of hockey and were just a little lackluster in the middle," he said. "It was important to me that we finished strong. We played with more intensity (in the third period), picked up more stops and we weren't afraid to take the big hits. Everybody found a little extra energy to finish that way."
JDHS sophomore goalies Garrett Cheeseman and Matt Noreen continued their stellar play this season, combining for 39 saves as each played roughly a half-game in the net.
"It makes my job difficult in a good way to determine who's going into the net when we've got two good, young goalies," McKenna said. "They both played equally well, and you can't blame it on the goalies when we only get seven shots and don't score. Having those guys back helps me to be optimistic about what we can do in the next couple of years."
Lathrop goalie Taylor Evans stopped all seven shots of the Crimson Bears' for the shutout.
Juneau-Douglas' six seniors - Nolin Ainsworth, John Carlson, Andreas Keller, Chris Klawonn, Josh Mayer and Albert Svensson - will be sorely missed next year after guiding the team to it's current level of play. The program began just four years ago.
"We'll be missing a fair bit of our offense when those guys are gone - especially Keller and Svensson," McKenna said. "They're really the first group of die-hard hockey players to come through here and they set a good example and really started the program off right. They've got a good reputation as a clean team who comes out and plays hard. That's hard to do, and it's important to do."
The reputation built by this year's seniors already appears to be paying off. More teams from "up north" appear willing to travel to Juneau after hearing Lathrop rave about the fans and hospitality during their visit earlier this season, according to McKenna.
"That really comes from the seniors and the parents," he said. "The leadership both those groups have provided is outstanding."
McKenna and his players on Saturday night watched the Fairbanks Ice Dogs, a Junior A team in the North American Hockey League, play at home.
Lathrop forward Tayler Munson scored a hat trick in Friday's game to give him 101 career points as a sophomore, while his teammates Brooks Poe and Alec Hajdukovich had two goals apiece to guide the Malemutes into the tournament final.
Third-seeded West Valley upset second-seeded North Pole 4-3 in Friday night's other MAC semifinal game.
Lathrop went on to defeat West Valley 3-0 in Saturday night's championship matchup. The Malemutes will be the MAC's top seed at the 4A State Hockey Championships in the Wasilla Sports Complex this Thursday through Saturday. West Valley will be the conference's second seed.
Lathrop won the regular-season title two years ago before being upset by West Valley in the MAC tournament's championship game.
Danny Martin with the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contributed to this story.