PUBLISHED: 3:49 PM on Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Building tradition in JDHS hockey
Legacy on ice

Courtesy photo
  The Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears hockey team.
Our lives are filled with participating in and commemorating traditions. Millions of Americans celebrate traditions such as Super Bowl Sunday, the day after Thanksgiving shopping, or the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day weekend. Hundreds of Alaskans commemorate the day the Permanent Fund Dividends are deposited. Some traditions go back dozens or even hundreds of years.

For the most part, we inherit traditions. And as a legacy, we pass these traditions down from generation to generation. Rarely do we have the opportunity to participate in the inception of a tradition. Yet this has been happening the last few years on Douglas Island through the opening of the Treadwell Arena and the beginning of the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey program.

The vision born

The vision for an ice rink in Juneau could arguably be found in the minds and hearts of a number of residents. The first publicly conceived visions of an ice rink began over in Douglas not far from the home of the Treadwell Arena.

My wife and I sat on the Douglas Fourth of July Committee in 1998 and remember when Sandy Williams and Rich Poor first mentioned the concept of an ice arena in Douglas.

"We were looking for a project to commemorate the one hundred years of the Fourth of July parade in Douglas. Ideas were being thrown out about a park near the superintendent's house at the Treadwell Mine or some other lasting contribution to the community," Poor said. Meetings with the Parks and Recreation Department included discussion of an ice arena that led to its adoption as the committee's commemorative project.

The vision clarified

After its conception, the vision for the ice rink we now know as the Treadwell Arena quickly grew beyond a project of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee. Poor reports how Parks and Recreation Director Kim Kiefer and architect Wayne Jensen were instrumental in giving shape to the rink with Jensen donating his time to provide a visual picture of the rink.

Funding resources for this vision also needed to quickly expand for the project to come to fruition. One-third of the funding came from private donations and other sources. The Denali Commission and the Rasmussen Foundation each provided around a half million dollars for the project. Foremost, the citizens of Juneau voted to extend the sales tax to fund the ice rink and other community projects.

Poor reported that the committee worked with the city on the allocation of city sales tax and general fund revenue.

The vision expanded

When the Treadwell Arena opened in February 2003, the Juneau Douglas Ice Association, a non-profit organization formed in 1999, was ready to provide skating lessons and youth hockey at the rink.

That winter the first youth hockey teams were organized.

Tom Rutecki, a JDHS hockey assistant coach, recalls when he proposed the expansion of youth hockey into a high school program.

"Basically, I was laughed at," he said about the first meeting in 2004 with JDIA. "No way", "We're not ready for it," he was told.

Eventually, after working together primarily with JDIA members Lance Miller and Dr. John Krehlik, a plan was adopted. "Then, we had to convince the high school," Rutecki said.

"Once we got the blessing of JDIA, then we went to the school...then we had to go to the school district".

By the end of July 2005, approval for a JDHS hockey program was granted with stipulations.

There would be no travel during the inaugural season. Then again, it was uncertain if there would be any competition.

"I didn't know if we could get any games", Rutecki recalled since team schedules are made in January.

Fortunately, things worked out. "I'm pretty active in youth soccer, so I made some calls around...Low and behold, we had 10 games scheduled."

This year, the JDHS hockey program has a full schedule of 21 games. It includes competition with smaller schools in communities scattered across Alaska.

Minnesota boasts that it is the state of hockey. Yet, the Crimson Bears schedule with games against grassroot programs from Glenallen to Homer and from Su Valley to Tri-Valley boasts locations so diverse that it would make a cartographer cringe.

Rutecki sees this as a great opportunity.

"The kids are meeting a whole another group of kids," he said. He also thinks Juneau benefits as Alaska's capital city when it hosts 14 home hockey games.

"I think we are painting a great picture of the community," he said.

The vision shared

That picture of Juneau has been captured and shared in the comments of visiting teams. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported last January:

"Roger McKinnon has been coaching hockey for a long, long time, but he said he has never encountered what happened to his Hutchison High School Hawks on last weekend's trip to Juneau.

"What a class operation," McKinnon said upon his return to Fairbanks on Sunday afternoon. "Everything they do down there is first class and they bend over backward to treat you good... They pack 'em in there like sardines and they go wild the whole game," McKinnon said of Crimson Bears fans. "But when the game's over they all want to come over and shake your hand.""

The JDHS hockey program is a reflection of the community of Juneau. It is the JDHS hockey team in name. Yet, it is arguably the city of Juneau's hockey team.

The African proverb states, "It takes a village to raise a child." Moreover, it takes a community to support a sports team. When the Crimson Bears take the ice, they are representing the numerous businesses, individuals, and organizations that continue to provide time, funding, and resources so these youth can compete athletically.

In return, the JDHS hockey program gives back to the community by preserving its vision and by creating a tradition and a legacy for future generations.

The vision preserved

From pewees to geezers and from free-skaters to figure-eighters, there's not doubt that the Treadwell Arena has been an excellent addition and asset to our community.

A constant flow of teams and groups channel through the rink from early each morning until well past my bedtime.

Yet when the Crimson Bears take the ice in athletic competition, they create history: fulfilling one of the roles of sports in our society. Athletic competition chronicles our lives, our years, and our generations from Super Bowl XL to the 24th Olympiad.

Sports programs create benchmarks, milestones, records, and the tradition and legacies of a community or a nation.

From the first game and win to the first conference and state championships, a history has begun that will preserve the vision for the rink, the team, and the community.

No matter what your level of skating participation or community support, from now on, the high school hockey seasons will chronicle the growth and maturity of skating and its vision in this community.

A new tradition, a new legacy on ice has begun through the vision of a number of individuals, the JDHS hockey team, and this community.

Legacy on Ice is a two-part article that describes the building of the Juneau Douglas High School Hockey tradition. Part One explores the vision, how it started, and what it has become. Part Two explores fulfilling the mission.