An unwritten rule in hockey is "Hockey players must carry their own gear." For 35-pound, 4-year-old Dynamites player Jaxson White, that means hoisting equipment that nearly weighs as much as he does.
"I want to be a goalie," White said as he walked into Treadwell Arena for the final games of the Juneau-Douglas Ice Association Dynamites hockey season. His gear rattled along behind him in his favorite Christmas present, a hockey roller bag. "I have the cool helmet and I painted black flames on my skates. I get to do red-light, green-light and on the last day you get to go to a party at the Island Pub for pizza. Hockey is fun."
For many Juneau hockey players, careers begin with the Dynamites (ages 3-5), an introduction into the correct lacing of skates, pants and putting gloves and skates on the correct appendages.
They then move through the ranks to Mites (5-8), Squirts (9-10), Peewees (11-12), Bantams (13-14), and Midgets (15-18). All five of the divisions are going to the state tournament this year.
JDIA coaching education program director Tom Ainsworth has been a driving force in the program for seven years. The Treadwell Arena opened in 2003. The youth hockey full season began in '04, and the younger Dynamites, or introductory program, kicked off in '05. Ainsworth said the younger children learn camaraderie, and how to play and associate with others through support from coaches, parents, and teammates. They learn basic skills such as stopping and positioning themselves. Heavily padded, they learn to be comfortable on the ice. They fall down, get up, and chase pucks and each other.
"Everybody walks off with a smile," Ainsworth said. "It is a great introduction to hockey."
While the younger Dynamites go through skills on half the rink, a ground-breaking program in its third year uses the other half. A girls' program recently launched in the JDIA. Half of the 30 girls on the ice started the program last year and half began this year. The group is a mixed skill level, which organizers say helps the girls become more involved in hockey.
JDIA board member and girls' coach Myiia Whistler, a former hockey player herself with a son currently playing high school hockey, said she joined the program because she wanted to give back to the community.
"We came up with the girls-only idea," Whistler said. "We want them to move on and continue to play but if this is all they do, than I am so happy to give them this opportunity."
Emily Keithahn and Sarah Quigley, both 13, said they love being with friends and learning hockey skills. When mixed with boys, they sometimes feel overwhelmed, but an all-girls atmosphere provides another level of support.
As the girls skated toward the center of the rink and back, a smaller figure, engulfed in Dynamites hockey gear slowly drifted toward them. Just 5 years old, with a hockey stick seemingly twice as long as she is, Anna Dale crouched into position.
"Sliding is the best part," Dale said. "I love to hockey slide."