Juneau-Douglas' Zach Hebert moves the puck against North Pole in JDHS's final home game of the season on Friday.

Juneau-Douglas' Zach Hebert moves the puck against North Pole in JDHS's final home game of the season on Friday.

JDHS hockey ends on high note

At 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team held its final practice of the season, a scrimmage between upper and lower classmen. Tied at 10, head coach Luke Adams had his team decide the match with a shootout.

The underclassmen won.

“That’s a good way to send them out,” Adams said. “At the beginning of the year we knew we had a good younger class to help us out, but we weren’t really sure. We had our eyes on the state tournament, but we didn’t really have any expectations.”

In the 11-year history of Crimson Bears hockey, the 2015-2016 season will go down as a landmark. With wins over Kenai, Bartlett, Lathrup and North Pole – as well as its first-ever trip to the state tournament – JDHS hockey announced itself as a 4A contender on a statewide scale.

Adams expressed this sentiment to his team in a practice-ending huddle.

“It was a season where our backs were against the wall for a while and all of our kids took it upon themselves as a team to see if we can make the best out of it. We made the state tournament, which was a goal we had for a long time and this group just happened to figure it out. We’re really proud of them,” Adams said.

JDHS started the season with more questions than anything. With 15 freshmen, six seniors, seven juniors and five sophomores, the Crimson Bears had little idea what they were capable of as a team. Juneau-Douglas started the year 1-5 before finishing 5-3 in its final games. For senior forward Chase Barnum, the growing chemistry between the classes helped turn the season around.

“The underclassmen came into the program really close. They are basically best friends, so that really helped. The upperclassmen got to know the younger players real well during the course of the season, and I think that helped us as a group. We’re all really close now.”

Juneau-Douglas’ self esteem rose after it began winning consistently. The Crimson Bears landed a second seed in the Mid Alaska Conference tournament, where it faced conference nemesis North Pole on Feb. 5. A win over North Pole got them to the conference finals, where they fell to West Valley.

Though losing to West Valley, the championship berth was enough to qualify JDHS for the state 4A tournament in Wasilla last weekend.

“It was a crazy experience.” Barnum said. “I’ve never played in front of that many fans.” Barnum, who has been with the team for four years, believes the program has a bright future.

“When I came in the skill level was high, it was real competitive at first for us younger guys trying to make the team. Now that I am a senior, it’s still competitive. These freshman and sophomore players have done a great job of stepping up and competing.”