There is a common theme when coaches talk about Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior hockey player Anna Dale: great player, great teammate, great leader and just a great person.
That greatness is reaching a higher level as Dale signed a national letter of intent Monday to play hockey for the Lebanon Valley College Flying Dutchmen in Annville, Pennsylvania.
“It means a lot to me because I have grown up playing hockey,” Dale said. “And really since my freshman year I have known that I want to keep playing after high school, so to get this far with all the help from my coaches and teammates is pretty cool.”
Lebanon Valley College is an NCAA Division III member, competing in the Middle Atlantic Conference and United Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“She is a difference-maker,” Lebanon Valley College head coach Matt Yingst said. “I love her grit and determination. She is an individual that you win with because she has a team-first mentality but the skill to really be a difference maker in any game. My expectations of her is I think she is going to be a major contributor immediately. She has the right personality and fits in well with our institution, and her hard work and determination is going to filter in to the rest of our program.”
“That enthusiasm has never stopped”
Dale doesn’t remember the first time she laced up skates for a Juneau Capitals youth hockey team as she was 3 years old.
“I definitely remember running around the rinks, spending all day Saturday watching both my older brothers (Michael and Jacob) play,” said Dale. “I remember watching the high school puck shoot and getting to skate around with them and that was always really fun.”
Parents Robin and Mark Dale said their daughter has come a long way since her pink Velcro skates.
“Those were the only skates we could find that would fit her when she first started,” Robin Dale said. “She took to the ice with those skates and her little red helmet and hand-me-down hockey gear and loved it. She skated off and never looked back.”
Added Mark Dale: “That enthusiasm has never stopped. It is still in her and you still see that same excitement and energy.”
Juneau Capitals youth coach Jason Kolhase said Dale “was ready to go from Day 1. She was going places and everybody knew it.”
Kolhase’s son and Dale grew up together, playing hockey while attending Montessori Elementary School up through JDHS and earning youth championships along the way.
“Always smiling, always having fun regardless of what was coming at them,” said Kolhase. “Always willing to show up and play. There was no gender. She was a good hockey player and we all knew it.”
Juneau’s Treadwell Ice Arena isn’t a year-round frozen surface so hockey players had to be resourceful. Growing up with the boys meant playing with them on frozen ponds and lakes in the winter when the rink season ended and Juneau’s outdoor environment provided mountain trails and softball fields for cross-training fitness with friends in the summer.
“The biggest part is just the connections I have found with my teammates and coaches,” Anna Dale said. “Playing with the same group of kids my entire life that has really just made it the most fun. Playing with the guys growing up my entire life I think my level of play and my game is fast and stronger. And I also think I am a pretty smart hockey player. Both my brothers were smart players and I would watch them play and talk to them about it after, so I think I am more than a playmaker than anything.”
Dale has seen ice time with JDHS since she was a freshman and helped the Crimson Bears reach three Alaska School Activities Association state tournaments.
“From the first series of her freshman year, we all knew she was the real deal,” then-Crimson Bears coach Luke Adams said. “Her ability to adapt and overcome in a fast-paced, full-contact game is really amazing. She plays the game with great vision and skill, which makes her a threat at all times. She is truly a special player. She has always been a fearless player who is never afraid of going to the front of the net no matter the toll on her body. It seems like just yesterday she was a young kid running around the rink watching her older brothers Michael and Jacob play hockey for the Bears. Back then you could see in her eyes how excited for one day to put on the Bears sweater. Now here we are with her signing a letter of intent for her to play college hockey.”
For JDHS last season, Dale played in 15 games, scoring nine goals and dishing eight assists for a total of 17 points or 1.13 points per game. She missed the state tournament as she played for Team Alaska in the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Alberta, winning a Gold Medal.
Current JDHS head coach Matt Boline knew Dale from coaching her brothers.
“Just in general Anna all around is an absolute top-notch kid,” Boline said. “She is the kind of kid you would want to watch your kid, date your kid, be friends with your kid. She is a joy to coach and just be around. She would always attend youth and junior varsity practices and help with younger players and her peers.”
“We knew we had a gem”
While the Crimson Bears have had players go on to play club hockey, Dale will be the first true JDHS alumni to play NCAA hockey.
“She is way more physical than folks are ready for,” said Boline. “It kind of throws them off guard. She was obviously a girl playing boys hockey and some opponents under-estimated her physical ability, but when they ran her into a corner they quickly realized they had to play her like any other player.”
As a JDHS junior and senior, Dale supplemented her Crimson Bears playing time as a member of the Idaho Vipers, a USA Hockey Tier II club competing in the Rocky Mountain District.
“I have been doing this for 40-plus years,” Vipers coach Michael Lehto said. “Anna is special. The best player on the team — great hockey IQ, wicked speed, great hands — but not only does she have that skill set, she took the time with the younger players, throughout the season, she is helping them figure things out. That is what was most impressive about the game she brought to the rink.”
This past season she played in 26 games with the Vipers (23-7-1). They went 21-5 in games Dale played, and she scored 31 goals and had 15 assists. Dale helped the Vipers advance out of the RMD Tournament (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah) into the USA Girls U19 Nationals in Irvine, California.
During one tournament game against a Nashville team, Dale scored three goals in an overtime win.
LVC coach Yingst and assistant coach Jon Benchich saw that game live as well as game footage from other tournaments.
“We knew we had a gem,” said Yingst.
“That is something to hang your hat on”
Hockey practices begin, per NCAA rules, in the first week of October and Yingst noted there is a major adjustment to make.
“Without a doubt,” said Yingst. “Two steps quicker than what she is used to playing, not only physically but mentally as far as decision making, but I think she has the skill set and mindset for it. Freshmen can step in and play Oct. 9, but you might not see their game until Jan. 6, with just the adjustments and things all coming together. I think she is going to be a contributor from day one. I really have high expectations for her. I really think she is going to be on our power play immediately. Just her drive, with her personality, I think that is infectious. She is going to make everyone around her, coming in as first-year players and returning players, she has that personality and mentality of making everybody else better around her.”
With the extra year for current college athletes due to the COVID pandemic leaving some college rosters stacked with players, Dale’s signing is even more significant.
“Locker rooms are small right now,” Benchich said. “There are a lot of good players out there. So anyone that gets a chance to play NCAA hockey that is something to hang your hat on because that is a big accomplishment. Anna is phenomenal. We love her style of play. She has a lot of grit, not afraid to get in there, she is a 200-foot player. I think she sees the ice really well and we are excited because we are losing our leading scorer and Anna is going to be able to come in and fill that void.”
The Flying Dutchmen play in Hershey Park Arena, one of the oldest in the country still hosting professional sports (Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game here). The school is in the process of building a rink on campus.
Pertaining to academics, Lebanon Valley College has one of the top physical and occupational therapy programs in the country. Dale will be majoring in nursing. She hopes to play all four years at Lebanon and return to Juneau and work in the medical field.
“I love it here,” said Dale. “I’ve always thought of this as my home.”