As Golden State Elite completes fifth season, program continuing to be family-friendly
The trajectory of the Golden State Elite Eagles (GSE) program continues to soar as the Northern California tier program heads for the home stretch in its fifth season.
The growth of GSE – a joint venture between the Cupertino Cougars, Redwood City Black Stars, Tri-Valley Blue Devils and Vacaville Jets – is evidenced in several ways, including the increasing number of teams experiencing success, the notice individual players are receiving through Select camps, and the advancement of alumni into the junior and college ranks.
In addition, the Eagles have devised an innovative spring program that will emphasize skill development with highly competitive, periodic games while allowing players to participate in spring sports.
GSE’s progress is obvious.
After having one team win a California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) state title in each of its first two seasons, it had two last season, and there is a good chance that will be matched or exceeded this season.
The club also achieved its goal of having a team based on the north side of the Bay Area (in Vacaville) and another on the south (Cupertino) for Pee Wee, Bantam and 16U levels for the first time. Offering geographic options at three levels broadens the appeal to families already taxed by commutes.
“We do some combined clinics at Dublin, which acts as the go-between,” said Chris Hathaway, the 16U AA South coach, Cupertino Cougars president and one of GSE’s founders. “It’s worked out well. On the weekdays, go to the local rink, and on the weekend, do extended mini-camps in the middle when traffic is lighter.”
The Eagles also have a 15U AAA team and one 18U team.
“Our ‘01 group was one of our strongest,” Hathaway said, explaining the decision to ice a AAA team. “Our two 16U AA teams made playdowns last year, so if we hadn’t had a AAA team, we would have had a lot of players without a place to play. It was a real strong combined year for us.
“We will apply for a AAA team from time to time if we have a strong enough birth year situation.”
That’s the GSE way – don’t force levels on players who aren’t ready, but make accommodations to serve existing and future player bases.
“Our goal was to get same-minded teams,” Hathaway said. “Hockey is played in rinks, not on airplanes or on freeways. We’d rather try to focus on the local and work on development.”
So far, so good.
The Eagles’ 15U AAA team recently competed in the Tier I state playoffs, and seven AA teams are headed to the Tier II playdowns (top eight teams in each division) on Feb. 24-26.
“Our Bantam AA South team had 15 first-year players on it and just missed making playdowns and played two undefeated teams (recently) and lost to each by a goal,” Hathaway said. “They’re the most improved team we had, and they’re going to be one of the top teams next season.”
The Bantam AA North team was just one point out of fifth place and had a plus-69 goal differential. The Pee Wee AA teams finished first (North, with a plus-80 goal differential) and fourth (South). The 16U AA teams were third (South) and seventh (North).
The 18U AA team, which won the Las Vegas Regional Silver Stick Tournament and reached the Silver Stick semifinals in Sarnia, Ont., has been dominant. At 18-0-0 in CAHA, coach Mike Holmes’ squad has allowed just 21 goals all season while scoring 123. Their average margin of victory has been 5.7 goals per game and almost half of their skaters (eight) average a point or more per game.
The collective success and individual development is catching evaluators’ attention as well. Twelve GSE players advanced from the CAHA Select Camp to the Pacific District Select Camp, or 2003 Camp. That includes four female players: Amelia DiPaulo, Karley Garcia, Anna Liu and Alexandra Thanassi.
“That’s a pretty cool thing,” Hathaway said. “These girls are playing on Midget and Bantam teams, and that’s no easy task. We’re thrilled with the way stuff is going, but we know there is always room to try to improve and grow.”
The eight boys headed to districts include: Ben Biester, Dalton Garcia, Cade Herrera, Ethan Judkowitz, Jake Maley, Owen Millward, Ryan Nutt and Antonio Tarantino.
A total of 30 players (or 40 percent of the club) were selected for NORCAL Select Camp or as alternates.
GSE alums are also making a mark at the next levels.
Forward Justin Dixson was a member of the United States Hockey League champion Tri-City Storm last season, and has committed to play NCAA Division I college hockey at the University of Massachusetts (Hockey East). Defenseman Alexander Stoley is a standout for Prince George of the British Columbia Hockey League (and a member of California Rubber’s 2016 All-California Junior Team). And forward Jasper Korican-Barlay is playing in the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s Premier Division this season and has committed to play NCAA Division III hockey at Fredonia State University (SUNYAC).
Several more alums are playing ACHA hockey and various levels of juniors.
GSE’s newest development is its Norcal Spring Tier League for birth years 1999-2006. The 10-week program will include six local games and four skill development practices between April and June.
“(GSE co-founders William Stone and Larry Cahn and I) started brainstorming about how can we help the development of skills, have highly competitive game settings and not have to go to tournaments, where the travel expense drives up the cost,” Hathaway said. “There’s a lot of spring high school teams, but for Pee Wees and Bantams, they don’t exist.
“What if we figure out a model where the practice time is more skill development? Every few weekends we’ll play a high-level, intense game. We’ll form two teams in the North and South at each age group, and each plays each other twice. One weekend will be a jamboree.”
The setup will allow players to pursue other sports and/or pick practice times that suit their families’ schedules.
“We want kids to be able to play spring sports. We’re going to offer multiple skill session days and times. If one of them is convenient, they can still play lacrosse or baseball,” Hathaway said. “We’re excited to see where it goes.
“We’re stopping it in June to coordinate with the end of the school year. July and August will be family time. We’ll have skill sessions available, but those will be drop-ins.”
GSE coaches also will form tournament teams separate from the spring program.
“We will still take teams to the Chi-Town Shuffle and the Carmen Starr, but that’s optional,” Hathaway said. “We’re going to offer it because there is a high demand for that.
“But a big part of this is knowing when to give families some time off.”
— Chris Bayee