If ever the Crimson Bears needed a rowdy Treadwell Arena crowd to lighten their skates, this weekend is it.
The Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team (7-1 overall) kicks off their first season in the 4A Mid-Alaska Conference tonight and Saturday with home games against a skilled veteran team from Lathrop.
"(Lathrop is) probably the best high school hockey team that has come to town since this program started," head coach Dave McKenna said. "All I can guarantee is a good, fast, skilled hockey game. It will definitely be a good show for the fans."
The Bears carry a six-game winning streak into the weekend, but are shaking off a nearly two-week Thanksgiving break and taking on their first 4A opponent of the season in the Malemutes (5-1 overall).
Lathrop finished sixth at the State Hockey Championships last January, but appear headed for a higher seed as they wrapped up their pre-conference schedule with just a single loss.
McKenna said that when his team watched Lathrop last season, they appeared to be very quick and skilled on offense. Their style of play isn't exactly the most physical the Bears will face this season, though, so the Juneau-Douglas squad has been focusing on hard-hitting defense in an attempt to slow the 'Mutes.
"We really want to finish our checks - meaning we want to skate through the opponent and push the guy against the boards rather than getting lazy and fishing for the puck," McKenna said. "It seems small, but it makes a big difference if we can do that on all areas of the ice."
The defensive gameplan is fitting for the workman-like identity McKenna has seen his team develop over their first seven contests. Composure and work ethic are stressed on a weekly basis, as is the discipline to maintain defensive responsibilities.
"We've risen to the occasion in every game thus far and only fallen short once," McKenna said. "Still, I don't think we've seen a test yet like we'll get this weekend."
The team will continue their strategy of rotating sophomore goalies Matt Noreen and Garrett Cheesman over the weekend, with Noreen getting the nod tonight.
"This time around it's Matt's turn, but I expect both goalies to get actions this weekend," McKenna said. "If Matt's really hot, though, we'll see how far we can ride his play."
As for the younger JV players who impressed in a drubbing of Su Valley two weeks ago, don't expect them to leap onto varsity anytime soon.
"We've got plenty of kids fighting for spots (on varsity) as it is right now," McKenna said. "Then again, we'll see how some of these guys hold their defensive responsibilities this weekend."
This weekend's games will be the third and fourth in a whopping 12-game homestand for the Crimson Bears that ends on Jan. 16-17. After that, they will split four conference road games between North Pole and West Valley to end their season over Jan. 28-31. Hopefully, playoffs follow.
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