Lane Styers will be reliving a portion of his hockey career this weekend.
Styers, 23, is the head coach of the Houston High School hockey team, the team paying a visit to Treadwell Arena today and Saturday for two Railbelt Conference matchups against Juneau-Douglas High School. Styers played for the Hawks from 2009-2013, and as a sophomore, made the trip down to the capital city to face the Crimson Bears. Now, he gets to be behind the bench as Houston (0-2) looks for its first win of the season.
“Hop on a plane, fly down — it’s a little new experience than just getting on a bus and driving six hours to Fairbanks or something,” Styers said by cellphone Thursday. “It’s always fun for the guys, they enjoy it. It’s a fun trip for us, we like your facility down there.”
The Hawks parted ways with seven seniors last year, including their starting goaltender, and are in a bit of a rebuild, Styers said. JDHS, meanwhile, has 13 seniors and is trending upward by sweeping Palmer in their first homestand of the season, lighting the lamp a whopping 14 times in two wins over the Moose.
But JDHS coach Luke Adams knows better than to write them off.
“They’re a good opponent and a quality program that we’ve looked up to throughout our history,” Adams said. “We’re glad we’re in their conference because games are usually pretty good when we play each other.”
There’s a lot to like about the Houston hockey program. They’ve won numerous small schools state hockey titles and have proven they can beat programs three or four times their size.
“We’ve always looked at them a little bit like a model because geographically they aren’t in a major hub and they’re always competing against bigger schools,” Adams said. “They develop their players within their program and we’ve established a lot of those same guidelines.”
Styers credits his dad, Mike, for instilling a strong hockey culture. Styers and his five siblings all played for Houston while growing up in the area, and for 22 years straight, there was at least one family member on the team.
“My dad has known the only way we’re going to be able to win is if we can skate harder and faster running two lines against these teams that are running three and four,” Styers said. “We run a pretty short bench. We’re kind of a two-line system, and we just work — we got to work. Our biggest thing is Houston’s not a big and talented team, but we try to have the most heart and the most drive.”
Houston Athletic Director Dave Porter said sports are big there because “it’s pretty much all the kids have.” The school of about 350 students draws from numerous communities on the Parks Highway.
“We get students from Meadow Lakes, from Big Lake, from Willow, from Wasilla,” Porter said. “So we’ve got a number of kids coming from all over the place and they feed our school. There’s some kids that are basically on a bus for an hour to get to school here. It’s a really a kind of unique area.”
Porter said his school and JDHS have a developed great rapport over the years. The games are always competitive and fun, but more importantly, the kids from both schools respect one another.
“When you play the right way and you have ethics and you have good camaraderie, it makes for a really great environment to play in,” he said. “I think both schools have that and that’s what makes it special.”
The puck drops at 8 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.
Wrestling to Sitka
The Thunder Mountain High School wrestling team takes to the Sitka Invitational this weekend. It’s the third to last meet of the season and the Falcons’ final tune-up before they host the Region V Wrestling Championships next Friday and Saturday at TMHS.
Thunder Mountain’s Derek Mason (215), Steven Ireland-Haight (171), Nick Tipton (171), Caleb Paddock (140) and Kadin Mesmer (103) and Juneau-Douglas’ Camden Erickson (189) will be making the trip. Mason and Erickson are both coming off top-10 finishes in the Lancer Smith Wrestling Tournament earlier this month.