Disciplined loss shows growth for the Bears' hockey team

Posted: Monday, December 24, 2007

For a team that struggled scoring goals and putting shots on net, it's logical to think the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team was ecstatic after beating Tok High School 7-1 on Friday.

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The team scored six goals in the first two periods, and had 12 more shots on goal than the last two games combined. The goal total matched the Crimson Bears' output in the last four games combined.

However, JDHS assistant coach Luke Adams praised his team's Saturday night effort when the Bears lost 4-3 to the Wolverines.

Why? How is a loss better than a win?

It's because building a hockey program is more than wins and losses. It's about developing a style and having the discipline to see it through.

"We played a much better hockey game today," Adams said.

So how can a team play a better game against a small-school team and still lose?

Juneau-Douglas stuck with its skating and passing system on Saturday. The Bears stayed at home defensively, pushing the Wolverines' wings to the outside. That allowed goaltender Garrett Cheeseman to see the shots coming at them from sharp angles.

When JDHS got into the offensive zone, the defensemen stayed at home and the wings moved the puck.

The Bears played controlled hockey.

"The kids are learning when to go on your own and take that risk and say when (the opponents) know what we're doing and how can we change it up," Adams said.

Obviously this process does not occur overnight.

Juneau-Douglas is practically an infant in the world of Alaska hockey.

Treadwell Arena opened in February of 2003 while the Crimson Bears are in their third season.

In most other parts of Alaska, however, hockey is part of the athletic fabric of the community.

Anchorage and Fairbanks have plenty of rinks while smaller communities, such as Tok, can make their own ice due to the frigid temperatures. Kenny Lake, who comes to town on Jan. 4-5, plays on an outdoor rink in subzero temperatures.

This means children grow up playing hockey, honing their individual skills and developing chemistry with teammates. Kids start playing hockey on teams at 7 or 8 years old and continue through to adulthood.

Tok may have only had eight skaters in Juneau, but the Wolverines' executed their system well on Saturday. Whenever Tok gained control in its own end, the defensemen would immediately go to the wings and then try to hit center A.J. Moore streaking down the center of the rink.

It wasn't overly complex, but the Wolverines didn't just know where their teammates were on the ice, they knew where they were going to be.

"That's how we play, we're a fast break team," said Moore, who scored all five of Tok's goals over the weekend.

Moore said his team has been playing together since kindergarten.

Juneau-Douglas' players, however, didn't even have a rink when they were in kindergarten.

Getting a team well versed in a system can be a long, long process.

The Bears are getting there, however. And the coaching staff is making sure that happens.

Down 4-3 late in the third period Saturday, JDHS tried desperately to get an equalizing goal. With less than a minute left, the coaches chose to keep Cheeseman in net rather than pull him for an extra attacker.

While hockey dogma normally demands pulling the goaltender in that situation, it was more important to continue teaching for JDHS.

"It's more than pulling the goalie and see if our six can beat their five," Adams said. "Right now, I want our five to score because you play with five most of the time."

In just three seasons, Juneau-Douglas' talent level has grown considerably. In its first two seasons, former coach Steve Foster helped build the team's skills. Now coach Dave McKenna, a former NCAA Division III player, is helping install more systems.

The players are also improving.

JDHS junior Albert Svensson will represent Alaska in the Arctic Winter Games while Logan Miller was named an alternate. Nick Mow, Chris Klawonn, Kacy Carlson and others are better now then they were three years ago.

Freshmen goaltenders Cheeseman and Matt Noreen will continue to improve while the youngest players, the ones not in high school yet, are growing up with the luxury of what their older brothers and sisters did not have - a rink.

Juneau-Douglas will eventually be a major player in the state's hockey scene.

It will take time, maybe years, but the players and coaches are showing they have the discipline to see it through - regardless of what the scoreboard may say.

• Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or sports@juneauempire.com.

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