America’s Showcase turns rivalries to ‘band of brothers’
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The moment that a kid laces up their skates for the first time, they have started down a path toward personal milestones.
From Squirt to Pee Wee and from Bantam to Midget, each level serves as a graduation – a sign that the player has chosen to stick with the sport and has fulfilled all the requirements to advance.
Among the top tier of high school hockey players, an April trip to Pittsburgh has become their most recent rite of passage.
Once again, California’s elite made the pilgrimage to the Steel City for America’s Showcase, a trip that the state started making five seasons ago that has the state’s top juniors and seniors on one team.
America’s Showcase originated as the Chicago Showcase in 1985. States would submit their top 20-25 players, effectively producing a series of competitive All-Star games. Upon the tournament’s 25th anniversary, it was moved to Pittsburgh, where it has been held since 2010.
It’s a trip that never gets old for the kids, especially with Pittsburgh in fever pitch at playoff time.
“It’s crazy,” Edison senior Cole Pavlik said. “We were there right when the playoffs started. You could look around the city and see black and gold, people wearing shirts. Everyone is focused in on hockey.”
Orange Lutheran junior Zach Pires said it was nice to set aside some of the on-ice rivalries and get to know each other.
“You hate some of the players during the season,” the Lancers center said. “On Team California, all those rivalries go away. You just become a band of brothers.”
No one lost sight of the purpose of the trip. After California sent two teams to America’s Showcase the year prior, the competition at tryouts was fierce to be a part of the festivities this year as the state sent a single team.
Interaction with scouts and college coaches opened doors for some and provided a clearer path for others. The exposure of the tournament is geared towards helping players decide where they will continue their careers after high school.
Schools were allowed to send up to four players to the tournament. CAHA state finalists Orange Lutheran and JSerra each sent the maximum. The state champion Lancers sent Ryan Sanchez, Jeremy Mills, Grady O’Bryan and Pires.
“It’s just nice knowing that on Team California, I had teammates with me that were going to go travel with me and just create memories,” Pires said. “We’re just all so happy for and proud of each other.”
JSerra was represented by Nick Valdez, Mason Pilkington, Jake Lauricella and Francis Lemay. Valdez picked up the win in the team’s 8-3 victory over Team Missouri.
Team California was competitive, posting a 1-1-0-1 record at the tournament. In the opener, California fell to Team Midwest 3-2 in overtime. New Jersey handed the team its lone regulation loss, 3-1.
In total, 17 members of the active roster played for Orange County high schools.
Several individuals had good tournaments, but a pair of club teammates might have made the biggest impression on the scouts. California Wave 18U AAA wingers Jason Epperly (Los Alamitos) and Pavlik combined for 11 points in the three games.
“At the end of the season, we ended up being on a line together,” Epperly said. “When we went onto Team California, we had a good amount of chemistry going on there. We just had new centers come in with us, and we taught them the way we play.”
Team California’s roster was comprised of forwards Joey Aguirre (Damien), Epperly, Lauricella, Greg Lee (Capistrano United), Lemay, Mills, O’Bryan, Pavlik, Pires, Branden Schulte (Servite), Aiden Schwetz (South County), Jonathan Skule (Santa Margarita) and Jeremy Van Dyke (Corono-Norco); defensemen Greg Bennett (Santa Margarita), Gavin Grace (Capistrano United), Kyle Mayhew (Villa Park), Pilkington, Sanchez and Delfino Varela (Damien); and goaltenders Dylan Gluck (Santa Margarita) and Valdez.
— Andrew Turner