The Juneau Capitals, black jersey, made it to Whitehorse just in time for their opening game in the Yukon Bantam Cup after the ferry the team was scheduled to take was cancelled. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Ferry tale: One Alaska hockey team’s not atypical journey

‘What goes through my head is that I’m going back to bed’

Living in a community inaccessible by road like Juneau, Alaska, there are certain concessions one has to make.

Perhaps the biggest one of all is the simple fact that any travel in or out has to be by other means.

For the Juneau Capitals 14U hockey team travel usually involves a ferry, and last weekend’s trip to the Yukon Bantam Cup in Whitehorse was supposed to be no different.

The team was booked on a ferry leaving Juneau for Skagway at 7 a.m., but head coach Ian Leary said things didn’t quite go to plan.

“At 5:10 a.m. or so, I got a text saying that the ferry had cancelled due to weather,” said Leary.

Winds blowing faster than 50 knots, waves higher than 11 feet and freezing spray made the ferry operators cancel the trip.

“What goes through my head is that I’m going back to bed.”

The thing one has to understand about hockey in Juneau is that it’s relatively new.

The rink was built around 15 years ago. There are only enough skaters for a team and a half in most divisions. The closest competition is in Haines Junction and Whitehorse.

So, when your only options to lace up against real opposition involves hours and hours of travel, it takes more than a cancelled ferry to crush your spirits.

Leary said about an hour after that first text message — sometime between 6 and 7 a.m. — he got a phone call from one of the parents, Andrew Campbell, who told Leary parents had been talking about chartering a flight.

“I’ve gone by charter airplane to Whitehorse before with a team for the Arctic Winter Games and there is quite a process involved,” said Leary.

A trip like that requires talking to customs on both sides of the border, a manifest of everything on the plane, copies of passports, notarized letters and more. Oh, and it had to be done in a day.

Alkan Air was the first charter company to get back to the team, and armed with a quote, Campbell, Leary and two other parents got to work finding a roster to travel.

“We got into scramble mode,” said Leary. “There was just a barrage of emails and phone calls and texts to all the players who were on the roster to find out if they had passports, were able to go and willing to go with the added cost.”

Out of an original tournament roster of 15, 11 players were able to make the flight.

By noon in Alaska, a flight was scheduled to pickup the team in Juneau at 2:30 p.m.

With a new ride lined up, the team had to get back in touch with tournament organizers — the same ones they had just called to tell they weren’t coming — and say they were now on schedule to arrive for their first game at 6:45 p.m.

Some of the parents had already called to cancel their hotel reservations. They too had to call and explain they were coming after all. Maybe.

The plane from Alkan Air, a DHC-6 Twin Otter, holds 19 passengers but due to weight, fuel and other considerations, only 15 passengers could travel. That meant the players would be travelling with four adults — one coach and three parents.

“That was a little bit of a problem logistically,” said Leary. The team had two girls on the team, so one chaperone had to be female.

Luckily for Leary and the other three adults, another group of three parents chartered a smaller plane and flew to Skagway, where they rented a car and drove to Whitehorse.

The group of parents drove up to the hotel the same time as the team, as it turns out.

“We arrived around 5 p.m.,” said Leary. “Around an hour and a half before game time.”

When it came time to leave on Sunday, the hope was to take the ferry back rather than a flight in order to help keep the cost down.

Unfortunately, the ferry was unable to sail again. In fact, at the time the News spoke to Leary, the ferry had not sailed in 10 days.

Back on the plane, there was one more twist coming their way.

The forecast for Juneau was worse than when they left on Friday, so it made for some nervous passengers, as some of the kids had never flown on smaller planes before.

“The flight was great on the way back until we got closer to Juneau,” said Leary.

About 40 miles out, the winds picked up considerably.

“It was a rollercoaster ride in for the last 20 minutes,” said Leary.

Later that day, Alaska Airlines cancelled two jets that were scheduled to fly into Juneau due to the wind.

So while the results on the ice might not have been ideal, the players and parents still have a story to tell.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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