A lot rides on the opening games of the season for any sports teams, and the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears hockey team showed that last season’s trip out of the Northern Lights Conference to the Division II State Championship game was no fluke as they iced the visiting DI Cook Inlet Conference’s Eagle River Wolves 15-2 on Friday and 6-1 on Saturday.
“Last year we had a great group, and we surprised a lot of people — like other teams and coaches — with our end-of-season success making it into the state championship game,” Crimson Bears head coach Matt Boline said after Saturday’s win. “Nobody expected us to be there but we did. So we are trying to build off of that this year, and we have a really high talented level of play in this group right now. We are trying to build on last year with the individual talents we have in the room.”
That talent erupted for six goals in the first period on Friday.
Junior Luke Bovitz put in shots at the 13- and 11-minute marks, assisted by junior Loren Platt and senior captain Camden Kovach on the first and Kovach on the second. Kovach scored at 4:43 assisted by senior Brendan West; senior Zavier Melancon scored with assists by sophomore Paxton Mertl and junior Ike Puustinen; Bovitz scored unassisted; and junior Dylan Sowa found the net assisted by junior Emilio Holbrook.
In the second period, Kovach scored with a minute gone assisted by senior assistant captain Caden Johns, and senior Harris “Sonny” Monsef added a short-handed goal.
In the third period Bovitz had two goals assisted by junior Alexander “Zander” Smith, West scored unassisted and Platt finished off the night unassisted. Eagle River had goals in the stanza by Asher Farmer on a power play, assisted by Brenden Farmer, and Brayden Blacketer assisted by Tanner Thomas.
“This year we have a nice group of guys,” Kovach said following Saturday’s game. “The chemistry is just unmatched this year. Everybody works hard, everybody wants to win, hates to lose. That is what drives us as a team overall.”
On Saturday that drive was evident as Eagle River had time to acclimate to the Juneau ice, but were again overmatched by the Crimson Bears’ attack.
JDHS put the first shot on goal 10 seconds into action — and the puck was just covered by the Eagle River goalie.
Bovitz then broke the ice with the first goal, a hard well-placed snipe shot at the eight-minute mark, assisted by Johns.
Johns scored on a first period power play at the 2:58 mark assisted by Sowa and Holbrook. Johns scored again with 25.4 seconds left in the period, assisted by Bovitz.
“Overall I think it was a better first period tonight than last night,” coach Boline said. “We are cleaning up some little details and playing a better 200-foot game on both ends and the neutral zone, focusing less on trying to free somebody away for a break-a-way easy goal and more on the team game…even though it is 3-0, as opposed to last night’s first period 6-0, I would take that eight days out of 10.”
In the second period Holbrook and Bovitz both scored unassisted during the 13th minute of action for a 5-0 lead. Holbrook forced a turnover and hit on a breakaway, and Bovitz came out of the corner to lose the Wolves’ defenders.
“You can’t have a guy like that, with the skill he has and the size that he has, have the puck between the dots,” Boline said of Bovitz. “He is going to score that nine times out of ten.”
Eagle River’s Finn Poggi scored the Wolves’ lone goal at the 11:50 mark, assisted by B. Farmer and Andrew Solway.
After the second period Boline told the Crimson Bears to do “more of the same. We are playing 200 feet and that’s what we need to do. It’s early in the season. We are not worried about mistakes or getting scored on. We’re trying to put the players in positions that we can keep on building during the season and everybody is prepared for what is thrown at them…”
JDHS’ Monsef ended the night scoring an unassisted power-play goal from the blue line, taking the puck at the 7:13 mark of the third period and going top shelf for the 6-1 win.
Kovach noted what the weekend showed.
“Just how talented our group of guys are,” he said. “Three lines deep, four lines deep, it didn’t matter, we could get the puck deep, get shots on net and we could dangle or do whatever to get the puck to where we want it.”
Kovach also showed what Crimson Bears hockey is as he commented about a heavy chain adorning his jersey after play, a chain with a large “B” dangling from it.
“It’s kind of like a little thing we do,” he said. “It’s player of the game but I can name, like, 10 other players on the team who could get this.”
Assistant captain Johns also noted the chemistry that has been built up over the past four years.
“With us being seniors now, and the juniors and sophomores below us, I think it is really well,” he said. “This weekend I was impressed by how well we worked as a team, getting into the zone, working together down there. Our defense was amazing from the blue line.”
Coach Boline noted the high volume of shots for the Crimson Bears on the weekend, 46 on Friday and 53 Saturday.
“Last night I would say their goalie wasn’t playing up to his normal level, tonight he was exceptional…only letting six in, you can’t ask for much more from a goaltender,” Boline said. “We had 99 shots on the weekend. Usually that is a three or four game total…between that and the high level of individual skill of some of our players finishing goals they should and scoring some they probably shouldn’t.”
Also key for the Crimson Bears, not just for the weekend but for the rest of the season, are senior goalie and assistant captain Mason Sooter and junior goalie Caleb Friend.
Sooter stopped 12 of 14 shots Friday, Friend 12 of 13 Saturday.
“They are both incredible goalies,” Boline said. “We want them to keep battling for that starting role all season long. They both are plenty capable and we expect big things out of them. We expect them to steal games — the ones that we shouldn’t win — and keep us in the ones we should.”
The Crimson Bears next play Nov. 9-11 at the Palmer Stars & Stripes Tournament against Colony, Wasilla and North Pole.
“We talk all the time about what is Bears hockey,” Boline said. “When things aren’t going right we go back to, ‘Hey, that’s not Bears hockey.’ Bears hockey is not just about Xs and Os, it is our mentality. How we approach the game on and off the ice, how we approach each shift, the game-to-game, period-to-period, we are always working to get back to Bears hockey.”
The 2023-24 varsity team are seniors Camden Kovach (#8, capt.), Caden Johns (#5, ast. capt.), Mason Sooter (#30, ast. capt.), Ian Moller (#3), Dane Pedersen (#10), Harris Monsef (#11), Brendan West (#18), Matthew Plang (#22) and Xavier Melancon (#33); juniors Caleb Friend (#1), Luke Bovitz (#4), Carter Miller (#6), Alexander Smith (#8), Mac Brna (#14), Ike Puustinen (#16), Loren Platt (#26), Dylan Sowa (#35) and Emilio Holbrook (#37); sophomores Paxton Mertl (#7), Emerson Newell (#12), Isaac Phelps (#24) and Eliot Welch (#36).
Coaches are Matt Boline (HC) and assistants Dave Kovach, Mike Bovitz, Luke Adams, Jason Kohlhase and Peter Sommers.