The Crimson Bear’s took home second place at the 2023 Alaska DII Hockey State Championships over the weekend to round off another successful season. (Courtesy / Judy Campbell)

The Crimson Bear’s took home second place at the 2023 Alaska DII Hockey State Championships over the weekend to round off another successful season. (Courtesy / Judy Campbell)

Crimson Bears hockey makes history at state tournament

The team finished second and was honored with the tournament’s sportsmanship award.

The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears hockey team made history in more than one way after the team took home second place at the 2023 Alaska DII Hockey State Championships — the highest state tournament placement in the team’s history.

The Crimson Bears were named the runner-up in the championship, losing to the Soldotna Stars with a close 2-1 score to finish off JDHS’s season while the Stars will move on to the Division I tournament this coming weekend.

“It was a good game — not much more you can ask for,” said head coach Matthew Boline. “It was the kind of game you dream about as a kid.”

The Crimson Bears also celebrated their first-ever time winning a first-round game, a necessary win to make it to the final championship game.

“If you want to be in the last game you have to win the first one,” Boline said.

The team’s initial win was against Houston High School’s Hawks, a team that early on in the season constantly dominated games against JDHS and other Division II schools across the state.

Boline described the game as a “David versus Goliath” scenario, but said even with the nerves of playing against a great team, the Crimson Bears were able to come out of the gate fast and secured three goals all in just the first period coming from freshman Elliot Welch, junior Harris Monsef and sophomore Emilio Holbrook.

Boline said the team was able to ride on the lead throughout the rest of the game and ultimately pulled through with a 4-3 win thanks to a final game-winning goal by senior Brandon Campbell.

Going into the second game of the tournament was nerve-wracking after the historic first-round win, Boline said, however, it proved equally successful with the Crimson Bears bringing the momentum to the ice and winning 7-4 against Kenai Central Kardinals.

The goals were scored by Crimson Bears sophomore Dylan Sowa, junior Brendon West, sophomore Luke Bovitz, junior Caden Johns, Holbrook and two from senior Karter Kohlhase.

That win marked another historical event for the team as it meant the first time the Crimson Bears have ever made it to the championship game since the team’s establishment during the 2005-2006 school year.

The championship game against the Stars started in JDHS’ favor after Sowa snagged the first goal of the game with an assist from Kohlhase. The Crimson Bears were able to keep that lead up until the Stars were able to secure two goals in the second period.

Those goals are what led the Stars into the third, and even with a tough fight from JDHS, Soldolna came through to win the tournament.

“Losing the game stings and leaves a little hurt, but I think it’s ultimately a good thing because we’re gonna be on the upper end soon,” Boline said. “I think everyone left really hungry, maybe a little disappointed, but we’ll get back next year and get a victory next time around.”

After the end of the game, JDHS’s junior goalie Mason Sooter, Kohlhase and Campbell were all named as conference team players and the team was honored with the tournament’s sportsmanship award.

“It’s pretty rare that one of the teams in the championship goes home with the sportsmanship award — It’s pretty remarkable,” he said. “The way that our team worked together and treated each other, it was contagious on the ice.”

Sooter had a remarkable tournament performance, said Boline, and his stats prove it true. Sooter faced 115 shots while covering the net and out of the three games he saved 93% of the shots.

Boline said he is proud of how the team performed during the tournament despite missing two key senior players, Anna Dale and Minta Schwartz, who were off representing Team Alaska at Arctic Winter Games. Though absent from the tournament, Dale was the only player from JDHS to be named an all-conference player for her performance over the entire season.

[Transcending Treadwell: Anna Dale hopes to play hockey at the next level, inspire others to get on the ice]

Now, with the season in the rearview mirror, the team will say goodbye to 11 of its senior players, which Boline said is bittersweet.

“We’re certainly going to miss all of our seniors this year, every single one had a lot to offer on and off the ice,” he said. “We really truly are a family and we focus on us and doing things the right way — and I think that was the secret of our success all year.”

Looking to the future, Boline said he is excited for the team to continue to make history and follow the momentum from this season.

“We just settled in and worked our butts off all year long, our team identity was a blue-collar team that shows up to work, and even with ups and downs we consistently got better and dialed into our team strategy,” he said. “My hope is that this momentum will motivate current players and youth players to see how close we are right now and set goals for the future.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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