Now is when it all starts to count for the Crimson Bears hockey team.
Juneau-Douglas welcomes Lathrop High School to Treadwell Arena tonight as Mid-Alaska Conference play begins with a big matchup against one of the conference's powerhouses, a team the Bears split their season series with last year in Fairbanks.
"We're prepared after a really good week in practice," Crimson Bears coach Dave McKenna said. "We focused a lot on defensive zone coverage and back-checking, so it was a good workout early in the week with more tactical stuff in the second half.
"We're excited about it."
The Bears win last year over Lathrop was marred by the unfortunate car accident that left five players unable to play in the game, and McKenna said he looks forward to a game with more ideal circumstances.
The lack of depth on the bench in that game for the Bears made everybody step up their games, McKenna said. And while he hopes to get the same intensity this weekend as the team showed last year after the accident, this year's team is different and is learning with each week.
"Last weekend showed us we need to shore things up in our own zone. When we take care of defense first we end up spending more time on offense and giving ourselves more chances," he said. "In the simplest terms, we realized after last weekend we have to do a better job in front of our own net and in our end."
And McKenna said with Lathrop's style of play it's crucial that what was learned in practice translates to the ice come game time.
"Based on past experience with Lathrop, they like to play a good, creative style, so we'll have to be on our game," he said. "They like to overload on one side of the ice and stretch the limits of the defense. It requires good communication to cover up for some of their changes in position."
The Bears and Malemutes drop the puck today at 8 p.m.