With a year under its belt, the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team enters its second year with a host of new faces and a healthy dose of confidence.
The Crimson Bears scheduled 20 games this season, twice as many games as last year, and will go on two road trips for the first time in team history. Juneau's season starts at 5:30 p.m. tonight in Nikiski. JDHS beat the Bulldogs twice at Treadwell Arena last year for its only two wins.
"We've got a whole season behind us of skill-building and passing," JDHS coach Steve Foster said. "They're going to be a faster team this year.
They'll be a smarter team this year, but when you start at the bottom there's really only one way to go."
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The team returns a number of strong players from last year's squad, while adding a number of newcomers.
Seven freshman made the final cut and two of them - Robin Woodby and Logan Miller - could make an immediate impact. Miller injured his collarbone prior to the season and will miss the first few series for JDHS.
"Robin Woodby and Logan Miller are both looking like killers this year," JDHS senior forward T.J. Preston said. "I'm excited to see what they'll do in the next few years and I'll definitely be coming back from college to see some games."
Preston is among a strong crew of upperclassmen looking to improve upon last season's foundation.
Junior forward Andrew Ainsworth and sophomore Nolin Ainsworth both return after ranking among the Crimson Bears' scoring leaders last season.
"It's a little more serious this year," Andrew Ainsworth said. "We're a little bigger this year and we don't have very big freshmen, but overall the team is better and a lot more skilled. I think it's pretty evident early on we're working better as a team."
While JDHS boasts some strength at forward, much of the experience rests between the pipes.
Foster will carry three goaltenders on the roster, two of which played last year.
Junior Kelsey Preston, the team's lone girl, helped keep the team close in several games last season while senior Alex Vick returns after a solid first-year. Freshman Sam Post will also suit up for the Crimson Bears this season.
The team's cohesion and chemistry in practice figures to play a large part in the team's fortunes this season.
Last year, Foster spent much of the season teaching the basics of practice and hockey. This year, the team hopes to build upon those fundamentals.
"Right now we're trying to get back to where we were at the end of last year, but there are big plans," Foster said. "We're going to have some attack zone things going on, which we will not divulge now. Last year, it was about getting out of the defensive zone and seeing how fast we can get up the ice, and that's all we really worked on."
Compared to the rest of Alaska, Juneau-Douglas is a virtual infant when it comes to hockey history. Treadwell Arena, Juneau's lone ice rink, has been open for just four years compared to decades for ice rinks in Anchorage and the Interior.
That means while other areas in Alaska have an established system to teach young children the game and shuttle them through a youth league hierarchy, Juneau is still establishing its ice identity.
Also, JDHS will remain ineligible for the postseason and will play as an independent school with no conference affiliation.
Regular season schedule
(Home games in bold)
Nov. 8 at Nikiski
Nov. 9 at Homer
Nov. 10 vs. Delta (at Homer)
Nov. 11 vs. Glenallen (at Homer)
Nov. 17-18 vs. Kenny Lake
Dec. 1-2 vs. Kenai Central
Dec. 8-9 vs. Tri-Valley
Dec. 15-16 vs. Delta Junction
Dec. 22-23 vs. Su Valley
Jan. 4 at Hutchison
Jan. 5 at North Pole
Jan. 6 at Monroe Catholic
Jan. 12-13 vs. Palmer JV
Feb. 2-3 vs. Colony JV or Monroe
Though it may take a while for Juneau-Douglas to be competitive in every game statewide, one thing the team does enjoy is a rabid fan base.
The Crimson Bears sold out all 10 games last year at Treadwell Arena and should see the same loud and raucous fans this season.
"The whole team is just amped," Preston said. "We're raring to go. We're looking forward to the crowd support we had last year."
Juneau-Douglas will compete against smaller schools such as Tri-Valley, Delta Junction and Nikiski.
The team, however, will get some real tests this year. JDHS will take on established power North Pole and will face Palmer's junior varsity.
"I intentionally requested that we get put against a true division four (Class 4A) team so if we do do well against small schools, and you never know until you get there, then we'll be put in our place," Foster said. "Last year, it wasn't appropriate. This year it is. They need to see what the big guns got."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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