As the Juneau-Douglas hockey team prepares for its second season in the Mid-Alaska Conference, the Crimson Bears face a period of adjustment as they try to fill the spots of six graduated seniors.
After a loss to Lathrop in the first round of the playoffs, the Crimson Bears are looking to improve on last year's postseason performance. While coach Dave McKenna said he is very optimistic about what lies ahead, he knows there is much preparation and work to be done.
"We're fairly realistic," he said about his expectations. "We are in a conference with last year's state champs, Lathrop, so we know we have a bit of learning to do before we're at their caliber."
He said the team is doing its part to put itself in a position to get out of the gate quickly with top-notch competition.
"We have some tougher competition early in the year," he said. "Last year, we made our regular season Fairbanks trip a week before the playoffs, and at that time we didn't get much time to make adjustments as the year went on. We didn't know where we stood as far as knowing just how good we were compared to other teams."
McKenna said the early-season conference matchups are important for the team's growth.
"We have a tough schedule, so we're challenging ourselves in the right ways, and we have a good core group of hard-working players," he said. "I think anything is possible; it's just a matter of paying a little more attention to detail and showing up to work hard every day."
He also said it will take significant work to compete with what McKenna referred to as the big three - Lathrop, West Valley and North Pole - but he said this team is different from last year's.
"The big shoes to fill are the goal scorers' that we lost," he said. "We lost some of our firepower - both on defense and up front - from last year, and it will take some practice to make up for that loss. Everybody's maturing, everybody's working hard and we seem to be a very balanced team this year as opposed to last year.
"There is talent spread across the board, and it will require hard work from everyone if we're going to be successful."
Team captains Nick Mow and Zane Chapman said the team looks well-rounded.
"We've got some young talent and practice is going well. We're really focused and ready to play," Mow said. "We are smaller this year, but we're trying to be more physical. We have a lot more speed this year, too."
Moe said they will be able to concentrate more on team play rather than individual skill, something they relied heavily on last year.
"We're going to have to play a hard, fast and physical game," he said, talking about what the team will have to do to compete with different conference rivals. "We'll need to work on our special teams, power play and penalty kills."
Chapman said the team has a good chance, considering its strong points.
"I think we have a lot of potential with the amount of hustle and dedication we have," he said.
He said losing the seniors from last year changes the way this year's team plays.
"Last year, our seniors were pretty good and we relied a lot on them. But this year, we're an overall better team," he said. "We don't focus on the one person to pass to, and we can work the puck better."
Chapman said this year's edition will be more prepared for the difficult matchups, particularly West Valley, who recently provided bulletin board material for the Bears.
"Their coach put something in the newspaper saying that the game against us wouldn't be worth paying to watch," he said. "We want to prove to them it will be worth it."
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