Bailey Hansen is seated at one of the player benches at Treadwell Arena on Thursday afternoon.
As black and red jerseys zip past her, Hansen slips a small ice pack over her right knee, recouping from a slide into one of the hard plastic sheets enclosing the ice surface. The freshman hockey player takes swigs of water in between chatting with a teammate, and before long, is back out on the ice.
“Oh it’s good, probably just ice it,” Hansen said nonchalantly after practice when asked about the injury.
The Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé ninth grader is one of seven girls embracing the toughness — and everything else — that comes with playing hockey for JDHS, Juneau’s only high school hockey team. The teenagers said they’ve found a sport that gives them a powerful sense of community.
“It’s like you’re hanging out with your best friend and a little brother all at the same time,” JDHS sophomore Nikki Lahnum said. “Everyone’s so goofy and funny and it just makes it a more brighter area to be in.”
The inclusion of girls on the hockey team is nothing new, according to coach Luke Adams, but it’s never been more pronounced. Ever since the beginning of the program in 2005, girls have been allowed to play on the co-ed team. Typically, there’s anywhere between one to three girls on the roster, Adams said, but never seven.
Hansen is one of four freshman players, along with Minta Schwartz, Lydia Ploof and Anna Dale, who joined the team that returned Lahnum, junior Taylor Bentley and sophomore Kyla Bentz.
There are more barriers for girls to play high school hockey in Juneau than in larger cities, Adams said. Unlike in Anchorage or Fairbanks, the girls only option is to play with boys. That initially scared Lahnum when she moved to the capital city in 2013.
“Coming to a team where it’s mainly all guys and probably one or two girls, it was sort of scary,” Lahnum said. “But then once I got into it, it was so amazing and fun and all the guys were so positive. It was a blast.”
Lahnum said she enjoys the inherent competition of playing on a predominantly boys team.
“It’s pretty fun checking the guys and having them be so shocked that, ‘Whoa, I just got beat by a girl,’” she said.
Bentz says hockey also helped her transition to town after a move.
“The first day I moved here, the first day I had hockey practice,” Bentz said. “This team was like my first friends, they were the only people I had in Juneau at the time.”
There were no girls programs in Juneau’s youth hockey league until about four years ago. Twenty girls came out for the first all-girls team, according to a previous Empire article, the majority of which played in the 2017 Alaska State Hockey Association 14U Girls Championships in Anchorage.
Currently, there are roughly 25 girls in JDIA, Board President Dave Bartlett said.
“We have desires to field girls teams in the future whenever we can get the numbers up,” he said.
That’s also one of the goals of Bentley, who volunteers as a youth hockey coach on the side. In the 10U league she coaches in, there’s 10 girls on the roster.
“So hopefully, eventually, there’s going to be a girls high school team,” she said.
Adams said Bentley’s commitment to the high school program has been noteworthy. He wasn’t sure she would stick with hockey throughout high school. As one of Juneau’s elite soccer talents, Adams knows she could focus solely on that sport with the hopes of earning a college scholarship down the line.
“Here you have a star soccer player that can’t give up hockey because it’s just that much fun,” Adams said. “She just keeps coming back. I didn’t know if she would keep coming back. Every year I’m like, ‘Are you coming back?’”
Bentley’s answer is always the same: “Yes.”
“Ever since I was probably in elementary school when we started traveling I got really big into hockey and I was always like, ‘I want to go to the NHL; I want to be the first woman in the NHL,’” Bentley said. “Obviously that’s not going to happen now, but yeah, hockey’s always been a big thing for me.”
Know & Go
What: JDHS hockey vs. Monroe Catholic, first home game of the season
Where: Treadwell Arena
When: 7:15 p.m., Friday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 16
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.