This weekend Juneau-Douglas High School will host the Tri-Valley Warriors for a two-game series at Treadwell Arena.
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The 2007 Crimson Bears (4-2) are a well-rounded, cohesive group of players making up one of the best teams Juneau hockey has put together since its inauguration in 2005. The Bears have good depth in the lineup and have wreaked havoc on opponents with their third line of skaters. This year's squad lacks the flashy personalities that can cause distraction, but it has no shortage of hard-working and determined players who are serious about playing and winning as a team.
Recently, the Crimson Bears hit the road for the End of the Road Shootout in Homer. Despite losing several players to injuries, they came away with victories against Glenallen and Delta Junction before succumbing to the hosts. Last year, JDHS went 0-3 at the tournament.
Even though the team is winning, the Bears have struggled against 4A division teams such as Kenai and Homer. To compete on a higher level with schools from the Interior, head coach Dave McKenna feels that his team needs to expand its arsenal of "reactive strategies."
"One of our biggest challenges is minimizing the number of shots on our goalie and then getting the puck out of our end. We are working on transitioning our defense to offense, rather then just getting the puck out of our end by flinging it down the ice. At the start we were doing just one break up, doing it over and over again, but as teams began to do a better job shutting it down, we realized we needed a second and third layer of strategy. We have to have it set in our heads how we are going to get out of our end and slowly but surely, we're getting it down, but it takes time."
Lately, the execution started to come together; the puck hit sticks and stayed there, allowing the offense to move up the ice and attack fluidly. But McKenna said that after the Homer tournament, the team knows it has a long way to go to get where the players want to be.
McKenna realizes his team's need for growth, but pointed out a couple reasons that Juneau's learning curve is still on the rise.
"The hockey is rougher up there ... definitely more like football-like. Our guys did a real good job of not getting into the emotional aspect of the game. We stayed focused, didn't get dumb penalties, and that's rewarding. The more we play 4A schools, the more we will grow because there is no better way to learn what we need to be doing, than to see it be done to us right in front of our sticks."
Both schools enjoy the new venues and different cultural experiences. Last season in Healy, Juneau won the middle game against Tri-Valley at an outdoor venue. The Bears were treated to Interior temperatures that hovered around -5 degrees, a bit colder then Juneau residents are used to.
Assistant coach Tom Rutecki said, "I think that going to Healy is the neatest thing that our players have seen in the three years of the program. It was interesting for the kids to hear about a whole different side of Alaska. One kid from Healy had matches in his gear bag and one of our kids said, "You can get kicked out of school for that!" The other kid said, "What do you mean? I got to have this stuff because I take my snow machine to school and if it's 40 below and I break down, I got to be able to make the fire to survive."
Tonight's game will not be a battle of survival, but it will start at 8 p.m., while Saturday's face-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.