The Juneau Capitals rolled through the round-robin portion of the Alaska State Bantam D Hockey Tournament but fell just short in the title game Sunday at Treadwell Arena.
The Capitals, comprised of 13- and 14-year-old players from the Juneau Douglas Ice Association youth hockey program, fell 4-2 to the Palmer Pioneers in the title game.
"I'm proud of the guys," Capitals coach Chip Verrelli said. "They were good sports the whole way and good ambassadors for Juneau and that's the key. It's a big thing. They're good citizens and represented us well."
It was the first time Juneau hosted a state youth hockey tournament and only the second team a Juneau team competed in one.
Juneau hockey remains in its infancy stages compared to the more established programs in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
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"It's definitely progressed a lot," Juneau captain Logan Miller said. "It kind of started last year with two teams that got second at state, and our high school team had a great season and improved our record a lot. We're progressing a lot."
Juneau defeated the Pioneers 6-2 earlier Sunday to finish the round-robin format 5-0. Goaltenders Garrett Cheeseman and Matt Noreen allowed just three goals in round-robin play while the team scored 42 goals.
Palmer, however, made a key adjustment in the final.
The Pioneers played a strong defensive game and didn't allow Juneau to use its speed and passing ability.
"They played better team defense and maybe just wanted it more," Miller said. "They found out we like to skate into the zone so they forced us to dump and chase."
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The Pioneers led 3-2 heading into the third period.
With 4:09 left in regulation, Juneau appeared to have scored the equalizer. However, the referees quickly disallowed the goal because it was kicked in.
"I knew it was kicked in," Miller said. "I wasn't very disappointed when they un-called it. I saw it clearly."
Palmer rebounded about one minute later as Stephen Acher corralled the puck along the boards and skated it in for a key insurance goal.
Juneau pulled the goaltender late but couldn't solve Palmer's defense.
"We took the body," Palmer captain Jonnie Olson said. "We just did everything right. We made no mistakes."
Palmer took a 1-0 lead with 4:16 left in the first period when Thomas Morino scored on a rebound. The goal fired-up Juneau as Miller struck back just 31 seconds later.
Acher put the Pioneers ahead 2-1 with 2:12 left in the first period when he followed up Ivan Good's shot for a goal.
Juneau tied the game again 45 seconds into the second period as Trever Held scored off Nick Rutecki's assist.
The celebration proved short lived though, as Morino scored his second goal just 53 seconds later.
"The main thing was we took the space away," Palmer coach Jim Acher said. "We didn't give them any space to work with in our zone."
Cheeseman played an outstanding game in goal for the Capitals. He stopped 20 of 24 shots he faced, making a few key saves on breakaways.
His counterpart, Zach Johanson, turned back 14 of 16 shots.
The final ended a strong state showing for the Juneau bantams.
The Juneau Douglas Ice Association will send teams to three other state championships this year.
Juneau will send a team to the Squirts D championships March 23-26 in Soldotna, Pee Wee C tournament March 22-25 in Anchorage and Pee Wee D tournament in Fairbanks.
For the bantams, a second-place finish represents more growth for Juneau's fledgling hockey program.
"As you can see the program is moving forward," Verrelli said. "This is our second year of taking a bantam team to state, and it's a compliment to how our kids are going."
PALMER 4, JUNEAU 2
Palmer - 2 1 1 - 4
Juneau - 1 1 0 - 2
First period - Palmer, Morino (Buness), 4:16. Juneau, Miller (Bicknell), 3:45. Palmer, Acher (Good), 2:12.
Second period - Juneau, Held (Rutecki), 11:15. Palmer, Morino (Buness, Olson), 10:22.
Third period - Palmer, Acher (Good), 2:56.
Power-opportunities - Juneau 0-4, Palmer 0-4.
Goaltenders - Juneau, Cheeseman (11-5-4 - 20 saves); Palmer, Johanson (5-3-6 - 14 saves).
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