Out of all the teams at the ASAA First National Cup Division II state tournament this week in Wasilla, the Juneau-Douglas High School will almost certainly have the most experience.
For 12 seniors, the championships — which begin Thursday with four quarterfinal matchups — will mark the final chapter of high school hockey. A self-described “family,” they are the first senior class to qualify for the state championships all four years.
JDHS played the past three years in the Division I state tournament, which featured schools much larger than their own. Now in Division II, the Crimson Bears have a realistic shot at taking it all.
“It’s definitely less intimidating but at the same time we need to stay as humble as we can be,” senior Blake Bixby said. “It’s just overall really exciting.”
JDHS is 1-6 in their past three state tournaments. Their lone win at the state championships came last season against Service.
“Now that we’re in Division II, the schools that are there are much closer to our size, and even some a little bigger than us,” JDHS coach Luke Adams said. “We feel like we definitely should compete and we’re excited to compete against the teams that are there.”
JDHS has played five of the seven tournament teams this season, and had success against everyone except Soldotna. Homer, Palmer, Tri Valley and North Pole have all come up short against Juneau, oftentimes, really short.
“It’s nice being one of the teams that people know are good versus last year where it’s just ‘the Juneau team,’” said senior Bill Bosse, who’s come back from a broken jaw that sidelined him for several weeks. “It’s actually nice being one of the top competitors this year. That definitely gives us an edge and we want to be the best.”
The Crimson Bears lost twice to Soldotna over a three-day period in mid-December. The goaltenders — Cody Mitchell for JDHS and Josh Tree for Soldotna — stole the show in the second game between the teams. Mitchell stopped 29 of 30 shots; Tree blocked all 22 shots. Galen Brantley III, who scored in that 1-0 Soldotna win, has two overtime game winners this month for the Stars.
Adams said the team is focused on one game at a time, which means Tri Valley on Thursday, and either Homer or Glennallen on Friday. A potential matchup against Soldotna wouldn’t come until Saturday.
“We’re worried about the first game and our side of the bracket first and foremost,” Adams said.
Adams holds every single of his seniors in high esteem. He said their high character has been one of their defining traits.
“They’ve gone through their high school career the right way,” Adams said. “They’ve learned how to care about each other as much as they care about the game. And that’s pretty cool.”
Monroe Catholic is perhaps the most glaring absentee from the tournament. The Rams, who have won the last three Division II state titles, were one of just four teams that missed the cut.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.