Crimson Bears hockey coach Dave McKenna said he wanted his team to face difficult competition this season in preparation for the playoffs, and Juneau-Douglas got exactly that this weekend.
The Soldotna Stars (5-0) followed up a 5-0 win on Friday with a 3-2 victory Saturday to sweep their series with the Bears (2-3) at Treadwell Arena. But Juneau-Douglas played noticeably better Saturday afternoon than Friday evening, and McKenna attributed the team's energy as the reason for its performance.
"The whole difference was intensity for our team. We came out there and actually did the things we've been working on in practice. That's why we spent all those hours in the early mornings practicing," he said. "If there's anything we've learned this weekend it's that we can be a good team when we show up with that kind of intensity, but we still have a lot of bad habits we need to break."
The Stars held off a late charge from the Crimson Bears to hold on for the win, but JDHS was aggressive throughout, clearing the puck quickly in its defensive zone and pushing the puck on the break. Juneau-Douglas actually outshot Soldotna on Saturday evening, a category it was dominated in Friday.
"We definitely just picked up the intensity and were playing our hearts out all game long tonight. It was a total difference than yesterday," senior Matt Whistler said. "Everything was at a better pace. Passes were being connected and we were playing with our heads up, looking for that man up ice."
As was the case Friday night, the Bears went into the first intermission down 1-0, but that deficit quickly became 2-0 after 13 seconds in the second period. Soldotna's Sean Endsley found Zach Waters on a breakout down the ice, and he put the puck past Bears goalie Garrett Cheeseman for the Stars' second goal.
But the Crimson Bears would respond quickly. Less than four minutes later, senior Bill Holbrook scored off a setup from Marc Heifetz and Tod Baseden to cut the deficit in half. And the momentum carried over.
Just 43 seconds later, Logan Hulse intercepted a Soldotna pass after Stars goalie William Granger cleared the puck behind the net. He turned and shot at a difficult angle from the right side and found the back of the net to tie the game. However, the Stars turned the momentum back in their favor once again with another goal just two minutes later.
But with 9:58 remaining, the Bears found themselves with a chance to capitalize. Down one goal with less than 10 minutes left in the game, Juneau-Douglas seemed to score the equalizer after a scrum around the Stars' net. But after several moments, the referees ruled the play was dead before the goal was scored.
On a night where the Bears came very close to their first home win, McKenna praised the efforts of both goalkeepers.
"The first night we kind of left Garrett out to dry. Fortunately, it didn't get to him mentally and he came out and had a good game tonight," he said. "Their goaltender was phenomenal. We had to work really hard to get the goals we did. They weren't pretty, but we just had to get them across the line.
"It looked like a rugby scrum out there at times, but sometimes that's what you have to do."
Still, the Bears players and coaches said they know they have a lot to clean up. Juneau-Douglas committed 16 penalties combined over the weekend, and McKenna said it's difficult to win when you play short-handed so frequently.
But despite the outcome, Bears senior Ben Peyton said the progress from Friday to Saturday was evident.
"We pumped the intensity up a lot and it was a total change. We had our heads screwed on right (Saturday night)," he said. "Since (Friday night) was our first (home) game, maybe we were a little nervous. But this time we played a lot harder."
Juneau-Douglas will be back on home ice next Friday and Saturday against Delta Junction.
Stars roll 5-0 Friday
This wasn't the way the Juneau-Douglas hockey team wanted to start its 10-game homestand.
The Soldotna Stars (4-0) went into Treadwell Arena and handed the Crimson Bears (2-2) a 5-0 beating Friday on the strength of two goals from forward Matt Fellman.
Juneau-Douglas coach Dave McKenna said the team didn't come out with enough intensity to win the game.
"I don't know really what's going on with our guys right now. We're playing pretty tentative hockey," he said. "You have to win one-on-one battles and get to loose pucks in hockey, but we don't have that drive right now. So we're going to have to start changing some things - try to light a fire under this group right now."
The Stars scored about a minute into the game on a Fellman goal, and they played add-on from there in the second frame. The Bears headed to the first intermission trailing 1-0, but Soldotna blew the game open in the second period.
Dalton Pearson found the puck right in front of goal halfway through the second and capitalized after a beautiful assist from Fellman, who eventually won Star of the Game honors with two goals and an assist on the night.
Friday night just continued to belong to Soldotna as Fellman scored again, this time on a breakaway goal to make the score 3-0 with 3:50 left in the second. Fellman was sent to the penalty box for roughing, but his time in the box expired just as teammate Matt Silver cleared the puck down the boards. Fellman took the puck and beat Juneau-Douglas goalie Garrett Cheeseman one-on-one for the Stars' third goal.
Soldotna kept the pressure on with another second-period goal, this time from Josh Kerkvliet, and the Stars capped off the scoring in the third period on a Dagen Walton score to push its lead to 5-0 with just less than four minutes to play.
Bears forward Bill Holbrook said the team needs to play with more energy going forward. While JDHS isn't satisfied with the outcome of Friday's game, he said they do value the level of early season competition.
"It was good that we had a tough opponent at first so we can work off it and get better at our passes and getting (the puck) out of our defensive zone," he said. "They were just coming in hard on us the entire night, and they were more intense than we were. We couldn't get the puck out."
The Bears were penalized nine times, including one five-minute major that left JDHS at a two-man disadvantage early in the second period. While the Stars did not score during that span, McKenna said the penalties piled up all game and hurt his squad.
"We spent half the game in the penalty box," he said. "We took a lot of unnecessary penalties, and that doesn't help at all.
"We have to play with intensity, see the whole ice and use the whole ice. This is a state where people want to be successful at hockey, so everyone's hungry," he continued. "So when you have a schedule like ours with no weak spots anymore, you have to be ready to play every night, and we're not doing that right now. But these games help us as long as we respond."