Juneau-Douglas hockey looks to get its first victory of the season as the Crimson Bears host North Pole in their first Mid-Alaska Conference games Friday and Saturday.
JDHS struggled against North Pole in the teams' two meetings last year, but the Bears hope their difficult early-season schedule will pay off as conference play begins. Coach Dave McKenna said they've been working hard defensively at practice since their recent trip to Homer.
"We've been trying to tighten things up on the defensive end," he said. "When we run around a little, things get chaotic. So we're trying to simplify and be a little bit more disciplined."
North Pole offers a great challenge to the young Crimson Bear squad, and McKenna knows they will have to play great hockey this weekend to get a victory.
"I think they're going to be a really good team. They were last year and we really had our hands full with them," he said. "We've made some improvements and I don't know much about how their year is going, but I'm expecting a big challenge for us.
"I think we're ready for the challenge, but they always have a talented group."
McKenna said North Pole is very well rounded, so it's difficult to take away a single aspect of its game and still be successful.
"North Pole generally has one or two very skilled lines of players, they protect the puck well and they move the puck well. They do everything well," he said. "For us, it's a matter of trying to get caught up to them in individual skill, as well as consistent play. It's the level we're striving to get to in terms of having a good, overall balanced game."
Last year, North Pole won handily in the two games the teams faced one another, primarily due to a great shot disparity. McKenna said he knows what the team must do to eliminate that problem.
"It may sound overly simplistic, but if we're disciplined in our defensive end it gives us more opportunity to generate scoring chances," he said. "It goes hand-in-hand with, as the old saying goes, the best offense is a good defense. The more times you win the puck in your defensive end, the more chances you'll have on offense, in theory."
He said the team is realistic about the two games this weekend given the caliber of the opponent, but anything can happen on any given night, and he added the Bears are anticipating playing in Juneau in front of their home fans for the first time this season.
"I'm really looking forward to having a rink full of enthusiastic fans, and hopefully we will provide them with a good hockey game," he said. "Last year, the place was full of people and it was a great atmosphere, so I hope we can provide the same thing."
A victory at Treadwell Arena this weekend would be a great first step on what will be a difficult road through the Mid-Alaska Conference.
Matthew Tynan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org