The Crimson Bears were knocked out of the title fight in the first round, but rebounded to score two dominant victories in the consolation bracket to finish fourth in the Division II state hockey tournament in Soldotna.
The fourth-place finish matched the seeding of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé entering the tournament that began Thursday. The team finished with a 12-9-1 record after an opening 4-2 loss to Kenai High School was followed by a 7-0 victory over Tri-Valley High School (4-12-1) on Friday and a 5-1 win over North Pole High School (9-12-1) on Saturday.
The Crimson Bears also won the tournament’s sportsmanship award for the second straight year. Caden Johns, a senior, was named to the all-tournament team.
The game against Tri-Valley started a bit slow for the Crimson Bears with a scoreless first period, but a goal 12 seconds into the second period got things going, Juneau head coach Matt Boline said Monday.
“Xavier Melancon put his first two in and it kind of got things going,” he said. “Everybody that was on the ice and on the bench, it seemed like at that point, realized ‘Oh, man, that looks like fun. I want to do that too.’”
JDHS scored five goals during the second period and two more in the third. Melancon had a hat trick with three goals (plus an assist), Isaac Phelps scored two goals, and Dylan Sowa, Brendon West and Matthew Plang had one goal apiece.
Saturday’s game against North Pole, whom JDHS played to a 5-5 tie early during the season, took a different tact as JDHS scored three goals in the first period and two more in the second — going up 4-0 at one point until North Pole got its only goal — with the teams scoreless in the third period.
“I think the thing that we had over North Pole this past weekend was we just moved with a little more speed and we were more aggressive, and when they ended up being more aggressive we were getting in the face and not allowing them to do anything with it,” Boline said.
Scoring goals for the Crimson Bears against North Pole were Plang, Ian Moller, Loren Platt, Sonny Monsef and Stahly Sheehan.
The opening loss to Kenai was somewhat surprising since Juneau won two games by 7-3 scores two weeks earlier. But Boline said two key players — top-scorer Luke Bovitz and Emilio Holbrook — were knocked out by injuries sustained during the final two weeks of the regular season.
While fourth place was as high as JDHS could finish after being knocked out of the title bracket, Boline said getting the sportsmanship award for the second straight year is a feat since the Crimson Bears were considered a title contender both years (the team made the championship game for the first time last year, losing 2-1).
“To win that award two years in a row while being one of the top contenders in the state says a lot,” he said. “I think a lot of times it’s easier to have good character and good sportsmanship when you’re on the losing end, and you kind of know you’re supposed to be. But when you’re one of the top competitors for the title and everybody knows it it’s a little harder.”
Johns was the only JDHS player named to the all-tournament team, but goalie Mason Sooter was also singled out by Boline for exceptional play during the three games. Sooter kept the Crimson Bears in the game against Kenai until the final seconds, despite the Kardinals controlling the puck most of the time, saving 31 shots until he was pulled with less than a minute with JDHS trailing 3-2, which resulted in an empty-net goal for Kenai with 20 seconds left. He allowed only one additional goal during the two subsequent games Juneau played.
Mason and other players were recognized in the season’s all-conference honors. Johns and Bovitz made the all-conference team, while Sooter, Moller and Camden Kovach were honorable mentions.
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.