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Bartlett hockey team short on players

Jeremy Peters

The Bartlett High hockey team is struggling to put a quality team on the ice and is seeking help.

The Golden Bears have nine position players and three goalies on their roster, but one goalie is injured and some skaters don't possess varsity-level skills. They haven't won a Cook Inlet Conference hockey game in eight seasons, sixth-year coach Jeff Barney said, and have learned to live with double-digit defeats at the hands of teams with 20-player rosters.

Things are so bad the school doesn't have a junior varsity squad, and some hockey players who attend Bartlett won't play for the team.

"It's hard to get a kid to come play when we get stomped 13-1, for five, six years, every game we play," Barney said. "I've got two kids that have a hard time standing up (on skates)."

At last week's school board meeting, three parents floated a possible solution, one that would give players cut from other Anchorage teams a chance to play for Bartlett. To make the idea work, Anchorage coaches would need to propose it to the Anchorage School District, which could then choose to present the idea to the Alaska School Activities Association.

"We would need a written proposal, but, of course, ASAA says you have to attend a school to be able to play there," said Derek Hagler, the district's supervisor of activities. "So, that's how a proposal would start, if it was even possible.

"In this case it's not."

School board member Pat Higgins said Bartlett has two options to bulk up its team with players from other schools.

One is to get Anchorage coaches to agree on and submit a proposal to change or waive the rules that are in place, something Higgins thinks would have a hard time getting approved.

The second is to forfeit all of its games in advance, which would allow players from other schools to join the team -- although no one would earn varsity letters and games would turn into nothing more than a scrimmage, Higgins said.

"I wish we could get more kids playing, I would love for them to have a full hockey team," Higgins said. "Long term, I'm curious why we can't get more kids at that school interested in hockey."

Dean Sun, one of the parents who spoke to the school board last Monday, said he knows of some hockey players who have transferred from Bartlett to other schools citing academic reasons, further thinning Bartlett's talent pool.

"We know of several exceptions that have been made within the rules that have cheated Bartlett out of players," he said. "There are lots of kids in the district that want to play hockey, and they gravitate to the south (side) schools. The folks that play hockey need to have financial resources, because hockey is rather expensive."

The best teams continue to be stacked with the best players, and Barney contends it creates a lopsided league with little or no competition.

In the 13 state champion games since 2001, Anchorage's three south-side schools -- Dimond, Service and South -- have combined to make 23 appearances. Two-time defending champion Dimond has played in the title game 10 times, Service seven times and South six. West and Lathrop are the only other teams to make it to the championship game in that span, with West doing so twice and Lathrop once.

Bringing in other teams' castoffs wouldn't make the Golden Bears instant contenders, Barney said, but it might beef up the program enough to create a JV team and start developing players for the future.

Barney said he is willing to forfeit Bartlett's right to play in state tournaments if it means he could borrow players and have a thriving program in three or four years.

During warmups for Bartlett's CIC opener last week at Ben Boeke Arena, Chugiak's 19 players looked like a small army compared to the Golden Bears.

"It's a little intimidating, but we always give it our best," said Bartlett junior Kyle Sun. "Bears don't quit. That's our motto."

The Golden Bears lost that game 10-1 and two days later lost 15-0 to Dimond, even though the Lynx didn't take a shot on goal in the third period.

Players who would be better suited to junior varsity, where they can learn the game and develop skills and confidence, have been thrust into varsity action, which can lead to safety issues. A player who can't skate well can easily get caught in the path of other players who are moving at high speeds, Barney said.

It takes at least a couple of years to learn the skating and stick-handling skills unique to hockey, said Kyle Sun, who started playing hockey when he was 6.

Becoming proficient at the varsity level would take a minimum of at least two more years.

Sun's efforts to recruit friends to join the team have failed. He's is in favor of bringing in outside players.

"I like the idea, because it'll give us a chance to rebuild our program, maybe compete in a few years," Sun said.

Beside safety concerns, fatigue is a major factor for Bartlett. Most teams use three or four lines, with players rotating into the game in shifts, presumably providing ample rest for everyone. Bartlett's starting five rarely leave the ice.

"Once it gets to the end of the second period, third period, there's not much left in the tank," senior Mason Rafter said.

If there is no reasonable way to increase the roster size, the possibility of folding has been entertained, but not encouraged, Barney said.

"We lose the Bartlett hockey team," he said, "we'll never get it back."

Reach Jeremy Peters at or 257-4335.