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Juneau Douglas Ice Association Youth Hockey ventures into today's playoffs undefeated while hosting the 2009 Pee Wee Tier 3 Alaska State Tournament this weekend at Treadwell Ice Arena.
JDIA finished the round robin portion perfect, posting a 3-0 record in their division, sending a message to South Central and the Interior that Southeast hockey is on the rise.
Juneau's Cole Cheeseman, 11, is pleased with the way his Juneau-Douglas teammates are handling the statewide competition so far.
"We knew most of the teams from up north were going to be pretty good, but we managed to beat them.
Palmer, South Anchorage and Homer all fell victim to JDIA's fast-paced style of hockey, but Juneau had to make basic adjustments to accommodate for the physical style of hockey that is played up north.
"The teams set up in front of the net, on the weak side, so we have had to play to the body to get those guys out of there to prevent them from scoring," Cheeseman said.
Essentially, Juneau is getting more physical and doing more body checking, as well as executing the fundamentals against players of a higher skill level then the local house league offers on a regular basis.
JDIA youth hockey is in its third year of competition in the Pee Wee Alaska State Tournament and is progressively moving up in the state ranks by figuring out how to play against teams from the north. The experience is good for everyone, including the traveling squads.
Colton Richardson and Nickolas Wrobell are on the Kenai Ice Hawks and like the challenge of facing new teams in new locations.
"This is our first time in Juneau and playing down here is pretty cool," Richardson said.
"Yeah, we are familiar with the players from teams like the Anchorage Comets or the Homer Glacier Kings," he said, "but we haven't played some of these teams and we don't know about their players or how good their goalie is."
Juneau's head coach Steve Baseden understands the excitement young players are experiencing by coming to Juneau and facing new opponents.
"We are so isolated and remote that we don't know them and they don't know us, so it is sort of a surprise to figure what the other teams are all about," Baseden said. "They have all traveled a long ways from up north, as far away as Fairbanks, and are having a good time down here. A lot of them have never been to Juneau. Teams went up to the capital the other day, met their local representatives, and some of them made it on TV. It has been a real positive experience for everyone."
JDIA hockey is growing through its own positive experience as well, slowly and steadily improving. Over the past few years, Juneau has placed second couple of times in the Pee Wee's tournament. Four tiers exist in the Pee Wees, comprised of 11- and 12-year-olds. Baseden explained that tiers 1 and 2 are the competition leagues and tiers 3 and 4 are called the house recreational leagues focused on skill building.
In order to qualify and earn an invitation to the state tournament, JDIA has to travel to Canada or the Interior to play 10 games against other teams at a similar skill level. Achieving the right to compete at the state tournament is the goal that everybody shoots for all year.
When asked about the competition in Juneau this weekend, Palmer's head coach Rick Danielowski said, "We love it, because anyone can win! And Juneau has been fantastic."