PUBLISHED: 2:57 PM on Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Building a high school hockey tradition
Legacy on Ice

Photo by Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
  TJ Preston (11), Evan Wood (5), and Trevor Lyden (12) celebrate with teammates after the Crimson Bears score a goal.
"It's Sunday night, you'd better get to bed. Tomorrow's an early day," my wife tells my son. Early is an understatement when you play on the Juneau-Douglas High School hockey team. Monday morning means he needs to be at the Treadwell Arena by 5, yes 5 a.m. Trevor is one of the lucky players who live in Douglas. In other neighborhoods around Juneau vehicles are heard starting at 4:15 or 4:30 in the morning with players driving players and parents driving players to the ice rink while most of Juneau is sleeping.

An early practice time is one part of the mission of the JDHS hockey team as it builds a new local tradition, a legacy on ice.

It has been said that a vision is something to be pursued while a mission is something to be accomplished. A vision focuses on tomorrow and where you want to go or be. A mission focuses on today and what you need to do. It is today's plan for the future.

Mission impossible: Crafting a successful plan

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to form and fund a high school hockey team three years after Treadwell Arena opens. You need to amass enough ice time, talent and financial resources to make the program a success.

Before the first puck dropped, the JDHS hockey program needed to address several challenges to its vision. Plans were needed to meet those challenges.

Ice time is a challenge born of the success and popularity of the Treadwell arena. The community response to the rink has been phenomenal to the point where the need exceeds the supply.

This demand was mentioned in early discussions about developing a competitive hockey program in Juneau.

Photo by Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
  James Gamez (23) checks an opponent in the defensive zone while goalie Alex Vick (30) eyes the puck.
"We don't have enough ice time... We don't have the talent", Tom Rutecki, JDHS Hockey assistant coach, recalls of the talks on a competitive Juneau-Douglas Ice Association youth program. How was it going to work for a high school program?

Second there was the challenge of talent. Coach Steve Foster points out that only a handful of current players played low level hockey prior to Juneau.

"It takes five years to make a hockey player," he said.

How could you compile a team when none of the skaters have played competition level hockey?

Third, the JDHS hockey program faced financial challenges. Juneau is a generous community supporting many endeavors in athletics and the arts. This small community continually gives time and resources towards the thrill of victory, worthwhile causes and personal tragedies. In a city often saturated with requests for financial assistance, how would the fundraising for the new JDHS hockey program trek down a road well traveled?

Mission plausible: Adopting the plan

Bridging the mission of the JDHS hockey program to its vision has been a plan: a plan to focus time, energy, and resources to make the impossible plausible. Encarta defines plausible as "Believable and appearing likely to be true, usually in the absence of proof". The JDHS Hockey program is making its legacy on ice plausible by following a plan adopted by the team and its community of supporters.

"If you build it, they will come", is one of the most memorable lines from the movie "Field of Dreams." A similar message has been echoed in the mission and plan of the JDHS hockey program.

"John said if you get the games, I'll get them funded," Rutecki said of Dr. John Krehlik from last season.

Krehlik was one of the founding parents of the Blue Line Club that was organized as part of JDIA to address the specific financial challenges of the Crimson Bear hockey program. The Blue Line Club, operating as a non-profit booster club under JDIA, has been seeking funding in part for the "pay 'em to play them plan."

Games are scheduled with teams from across the state due to the lack of regional competition. Since schools on the road system can drive to games, they have little incentive to absorb airfare costs in order to compete in Juneau. As a result, the Blue Line Club raises funds to pay for both Crimson Bear travel as well as the airfare for the teams playing in Juneau.

A new plan also needed to be adopted to secure ice time for practice and competition. The JDHS hockey program has negotiated additional ice time through its partnership with JDIA. Rutecki said that when the team needs ice time, it has to trade ice time.

"For a Friday game, we give them (JDIA) two hours on Saturday," Rutecki said.

Additional ice time for practice was seen as crucial.

"I was very adamant about this last year, for this year," Foster said. "With one and a half-hour practices, the learning curve is 10 times better. With one hour (practices), you only have 40 to 45 minutes to learn how to do drills right."

This year the players arrive at the rink earlier so they can be dressed and on the ice by 5:15 a.m. and have the extra time to get the drills right. Mastering drills is part of the mission for developing the talent for the JDHS hockey program. "We've run the same drills for the last two years over and over again," Foster points out. Assistant coach Luke Adams "is very good on getting them going," he said.

Foster said they are focusing on developing the ability to pass and skate without thinking. It needs to be automatic, a reaction. The coaches have been trying to get the players to pass and skate well enough so I can teach them a system, Foster said.

Until then, "you're better off playing a faster game of heads up hockey rather than a system... We're there now... In the last four weeks we've really started adding new stuff," he said.

Foster has adopted a 2-1-2 system for the JDHS hockey program. Rather than utilize a system comprised of a sequence of plays, the 2-1-2 he uses addresses "how you form people on the ice and their responsibilities in it."

The Russians perfected the 2-1-2 before it was finally broken. According to Foster, "It's very viable at the high school level... it works in all 3 zones".

In the system Foster is going to teach them, apart from the puck drop, everything is interchangeable, especially in the attack zone.

"The other team has a hard time knowing where the attack is coming from next," Foster said.

In addition to on-ice drills, the JDHS hockey program focuses on an intensive dry land regimen towards its mission. Dry land practice incorporates two components: the weight room side and the field side. Andy Bullick is in charge of the weightlifting program.

Tom Rutecki is in charge of the fieldwork.

"We have a very tailored course in weightlifting," Foster said. This combines elements developed for hockey at the University of Alaska along with the University of Michigan.

"The weightlifting is tailored to what part of the season they're in. The weightlifting has actually backed off a bit," he said.

"Mr. Rutecki is very well versed in the plyometrics" Foster said. Plyometrics is the major focus of the second part of the dry land program.

It is a complete training program emphasizing calisthenics and repeated movements utilizing body weight without external weights and machines.

The dry land and drill components have been the focus and mission of JDHS hockey to make a plausible plan for building a hockey tradition and leaving a legacy on ice.

Mission accomplished: executing the plan

Completion of the JDHS hockey program mission involves the execution of its plan. As the community's team, its success and accomplishments can be measured many ways.

The series with Tri-Valley was a huge eye opener, Foster said. The first night the JDHS players were intimidated possibly due to large losses to the Warriors last season.

As the game progressed, the confidence of the JDHS players was increasing. The Crimson Bears lost on the scoreboard but those in attendance that evening witnessed a resounding success.

The team gained a new confidence in focusing on and executing its plan. The Crimson Bears dominated play the following evening.

"I said it takes five years to make a hockey player. I still believe that," Foster said.

The challenges will continue. But there are accomplishments as well. This season and last season are filled with accomplishments, both on and off the ice.

The success of a program is often reserved for the champions, not the runners-up. But success is not just the pinnacle of a season. It also comprises a series of accomplishments. These accomplishments are the milestones upon which the team measures itself against itself and against others. These milestones are forming the new hockey tradition: a legacy on ice for themselves and their community.

This year the Crimson Bears had their first road games and their first shutout. The opportunity for the first winning season is another milestone within their sights this year. Other accomplishments come with time.

The Fairbanks Daily News Miner recorded Hutchison coach Roger McKinnon's prediction of the success of the JDHS hockey program after his team's visit last January. It said, "Juneau is in its first year of existence, but McKinnon said it won't be long before the Crimson Bears will be on an even level with the state's large schools."

"They've already got 200 kids in their program and in four years they're going to be a hockey powerhouse," he said.

"I'm very proud of the program that JDIA has put together." Foster said. The players, parents, and the community of supporters can likewise be proud of the vision and mission to build the JDHS hockey program. Each can be proud of the accomplishments that have been recorded and those that we will continue to see.

When you attend a game or buy a cowbell, you participate in the mission and its success. When a newspaper article promotes the hockey program, it contributes to its mission and success. When the team believes what it can be, what it must do, and does the best that it can with what it has, its mission is accomplished.

JDHS Hockey has already come a long way. JDHS Hockey still has a long way to go. The continued community involvement in the vision and mission of this new legacy on ice will ensure that this tradition will grow and succeed.

This article is the second part of Legacy on Ice: Building the High School Hockey Tradition. Part One explored the vision for the program and its foundation. Part Two expands upon the mission for the program from its challenges through its successes.