They practice when most people sleep.
While the vast majority of Alaskans cozy up in warm beds at 6 a.m., the Juneau-Douglas High School ice hockey team is on the ice. The first hockey team in school history has honed their skills inside Treadwell Arena under the cloak of darkness.
After eight weeks of early morning practices and arduous conditioning drills, Juneau-Douglas will be formally introduced to the public on Friday when it plays its first game.
The puck drops at 8:15 p.m. against Tri-Valley at Treadwell Arena.
What happens next will be history.
"I think everyone is really excited for the game," JDHS sophomore defenseman Andrew Ainsworth said. "It's hard to be too happy in the mornings. I think everyone is really excited to see what's going to happen because no one knows what's going to happen."
The 22 members of the inaugural hockey team, 20 boys and two girls, also play with the Juneau-Douglas Ice Association - a house league based at Treadwell Arena.
While the three-year old ice arena has served as host to a influx of new hockey players, Juneau remains a relative infant in hockey terms. Youth programs in Anchorage and Fairbanks have routinely churned out collegiate and professional talent for decades.
In addition to competing against more established programs, Juneau-Douglas will also be learning about the physical side of hockey.
There is no checking allowed in the JDIA. Alaska high school hockey, however, is full contact.
JDHS hockey coach Steve Foster has been trying to get his team prepared for the rough-and-tumble world of competitive ice hockey with drills and advice, but experience will serve as the best teacher.
"The kids need the experience of full-contact hockey," Foster said. "You can't teach kids what to do when they see other kids with blood in their eyes. You can practice until you're blue in the face, but the game teaches the character behind the game."
In preparation for the high school season, JDHS routinely scrimmaged adult teams on Saturday mornings.
Last Saturday, the Bears took on the JDIA's Tier I team of the house league's best adult players. The adults defeated JDHS 16-1.
JDHS ice hockey
Who: Crimson Bears vs. Tri-Valley Viking Warriors.
When: 8:15 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Treadwell Arena.
How much: Admission is $5.
"The objective is to give them as much as they can handle without burying them," Foster said. "I told them in the locker room before the game against the adults that this game was a test of character. When will you quit?"
Foster said he was proud of his team for not quitting. Goaltender Kelsey Preston had a rough night between the pipes but stood her ground.
"It was important how she kept coming up," Foster said. "By the third period, she really came up. She played to the level of play of the opponents. She was quicker in the third period than the first period and left the game a little sweat-ball."
One of the problems JDHS experienced in the game was giving up rebound goals. To stop giving up second and third chances on goal, the Crimson Bears need to get the opposing forwards out of the crease. That means delivering a hit, which is something new for the majority of Crimson Bears.
"This is a new skill we've been learning," JDHS sophomore winger Albert Svensson said. "In JDIA it's not as physical so you don't knock him down, you just kind of move him away. Now it's knock him down and get him out of your crease."
For the Crimson Bears this season, the majority of games will be learning on the fly. Practices have been about learning the game's fundamentals.
"So far we've been basically going over basic stuff and learning how to play as a team rather than strategizing," Ainsworth said. "We've been going over the basics and learning how to play with each other."
Friday's opponent enters the game with a 7-1 record. The Viking Warriors compete in the Greatland Conference, which features smaller schools. Tri-Valley is a Class 2A school with an enrollment of 70 students, according to the Alaska Scholastic Activities Association Web site.
"This game is going to be an indicator of where we stand in Alaska," Foster said.
JDHS is an independent and not affiliated with any conference. The Crimson Bears are ineligible for any post-season tournament and will play all of their games at home.
Much like the football team, the Bears raise all of their own money for the season and receive no financial assistance from the school.
"It's kind of a lot of money," Ainsworth said. "We did bake sales and everyone is expected to do some fundraising. The parents have done a lot of the work and it's been good that they've kind of done the fundraising and we concentrate on playing hockey. It's really nice of them."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Meet the Crimson Bears Hockey Team
Head coach Steve Foster
Assistant coach Luke Adams
Conditioning coach Tom Rutecki
Administrative liaison Andy Bullock
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