The Crimson Bears hockey team found its stride during a 10-game stretch in front of the home crowd last season, and Juneau-Douglas hopes to duplicate that success again this year.
The Bears (2-1) drop the puck tonight at 8 p.m. against the Soldotna Stars (3-0) as JDHS enters another 10-game homestand that lasts through Dec.18, and coach Dave McKenna said the team is excited to play in its home opener.
"It's always nice to play at home. We have really supportive fans, and we generally have more jump in our legs on opening night than we usually do," he said. "Sometimes it can work against you if you're over-excited, but once the nerves settle down, it's nice to have that crowd behind you."
As for the competition on the ice, McKenna said the Stars are a tough opponent to face this early in the season.
"Soldotna is probably one of the better teams to come down here and play us, so we're happy to have those guys come in. We played a close game with them last year in Homer," he said. "They're a fast, clean team, so that's a really good test to start the year at home."
The Bears don't have a lot of size after graduating several of their bigger players from last season. But McKenna said physicality shouldn't be an issue against the fundamentally sound Stars.
"They play Anchorage-area teams all the time, and that's a high level of play. They play a good, creative game - lots of cycling in the corner," he said. "They're not a big, beat-you-up kind of team. They're a smart team that focuses on puck movement, and it should be a really exciting game to play and watch."
And the rest of the schedule only gets tougher, McKenna said. Homer and Delta Junction - two teams the Bears handled at home last season - are back again for a couple of two-game series, but the Bears also welcome some of the better hockey teams the state has to offer.
Included in this year's home slate of games are matchups against small-school champion Hutchison - a team that defeated JDHS last year in Homer - Dec. 3-4, as well as Lathrop on Dec. 10-11. Juneau-Douglas split its series against the Malemutes last season.
But the victory against Lathrop came on a Saturday morning that was memorable for the wrong reasons. Before the Bears' 2-1 defeat of the Malemutes in Fairbanks on Dec. 12 - their first win of the season - five of the players were involved in a car accident that left former players John Kenyon and Robin Woodby injured with a fractured pelvis and fractured vertebra, respectively. They both missed the rest of their senior seasons. McKenna said he looks forward to playing the Malemutes under more normal conditions.
"That was under some really wild circumstances," he said. "But our guys really rose to the occasion, and hopefully we get a little closer to meeting their level of play under normal circumstances."
Just as the team gained momentum during last year's homestand, McKenna said he hopes his team can continue its fast start to this season, which began last weekend with wins over Colony and Barlett before a loss to Eagle River.
"Mentally, we hope to bring intensity every game. Every night is different. Sometimes the puck bounces your way or the calls go your way, and sometimes they don't and you just have to muscle through the night," he said. "So we're looking for consistent effort and intensity, but beyond that, we hope to refine a few areas of our game."
Juneau-Douglas faces Soldotna in its home-opener at Treadwell Arena today at 8 p.m. Saturday's varsity start time has been moved up to 4 p.m. due to the Stars' travel situation.