BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild taste great success in ’17-18, boosted by California natives
Slava Demin said “it is pretty crazy to think that half of our team is from California, which is considered a small hockey market.”
Demin, a Cypress native, is one of nine California natives on the Wenatchee Wild’s roster this season. The Wild rolled to the British Columbia Hockey League’s (BCHL) Fred Page Cup championship as playoff champions and then won the Doyle Cup to advance to the Royal Bank Cup to vie for Canadian junior hockey supremacy.
The California players skating for the Wild – Daniel Chladek (Anaheim), Demin, Zak Galambos (Walnut Creek), Nicholas Kent (Ladera Ranch), Jacob Modry (El Segundo), Chad Sasaki (Cypress), Murphy Stratton (Los Angeles), Drake Usher (Upland) and Jackson Wozniak (Cypress) – have formed a brotherhood being away from the Golden State, even if they didn’t already have one from their youth days playing for the Jr. Sharks, Jr. Kings and Jr. Ducks, among other associations.
“This season has been a blast and being able to do it all with so many of your buddies from back home makes it even more special,” said Sasaki. “The California hockey community is so tight-knit and there’s a special bond between all the guys from the area. You all have something in common when you show up, so it’s like we’re family from Day 1. It’s awesome to see the number of players from California come through this program over the years and have so much success at the junior level and beyond.”
“Coming to Wenatchee, I was hoping to play a bigger role for my team and I think both the coaching staff and my teammates have done a great job of supporting me on and off the ice and have really helped me find my confidence,” added Stratton, a longtime Jr. King. “Every junior hockey player has to move away from home at some point and I got really lucky coming to Wenatchee and seeing how much the team is involved in the community. It’s a great feeling to win for these fans – they deserve it.”
Wenatchee is a town of 33,000 located in north-central Washington near the near the eastern foothills of the Cascade Range. The Wild franchise was formed in 2008 as a member of the North American Hockey League and joined the BCHL prior to the 2015-16 season.
While not a traditional hockey hotbed, Wenatchee is a hockey-mad town that regularly sees large crowds at the Town Toyota Center.
“Playing for Wenatchee has definitely been a great experience for me,” said Usher. “The coaching staff has done an outstanding job for us to not only be NCAA-ready, but beyond that. The coaches know exactly what takes to make it to the next level and they apply that knowledge on and off the ice. My teammates have helped tremendously as well. Even though we have practice every day, my teammates are checked in and ready to compete, which keeps me ready to go, too. The thing I love the most is the fact that everyone holds each other accountable. Whether you get four shifts a night, or 18, everyone is expected to do their job as a team.”
“Playing in Wenatchee has really helped me learn how to play in the dirty areas and how to transition to the next level,” added Wozniak. “I’ve learned being strong on the puck makes a world of difference. The style of play here heavily mimics the style of play you’ll see at the D-I level. And playing with guys from back home has made switching to the junior hockey life a little smoother. Knowing guys I’ve grown up playing with or against made it easy when I had questions about how things worked at and away from the rink. It was also easier to create a great team chemistry because we all had a lot in common.”
And in tasting success at the junior level and seeing a handful of the California players have NCAA Division I commitments in hand – Demin (Denver), Galambos (Minnesota State), Kent (Quinnipiac) and Sasaki (Colorado College) – the players have not forgotten their roots back home.
“When it comes to coaches, every coach I’ve ever had, from the beginning to now, have all contributed to my development,” said Galambos. “All of them, they all made my minor hockey days unforgettable and I thank them for that. The Jr. Sharks have all the resources you need if you’re trying to take your hockey career to the next level. The Jr. Sharks really helped prepare me for my junior hockey career. They offer a top-notch facility and provide an even better coaching staff to accompany it. The coaches there are all amazing coaches and people.”
“I think there were a number of great coaches that helped me along the way,” noted Demin. “My youth hockey career was a huge part of my development. I think my youth hockey days were really the time where I developed a passion for the game along with learning skills that I can use now and in the future. I also think a big part of my development came because I was having so much fun during those years that learning became almost natural.”
Sasaki played for the California Wave and Jr. Ducks and said there was when he recognized his above-average talent.
“I was very fortunate growing up to be a part of some excellent programs and receive exceptional coaching,” said Sasaki. “I played most of my youth hockey with the Wave and they did a great job teaching solid fundamentals and building a strong foundation. I moved to the Jr. Ducks in Midget 16s and those coaches really helped me see the big picture and take my game to the next level, preparing me mentally and giving me the confidence to make the jump to junior hockey.”
“My youth hockey development was extremely important for me,” Usher said. “Without it, I would have never met the people I know today. Because hockey was, and always has been, a big part of my life, I went to the rink almost every day and got better every single time I was out there, all while having fun at the same time.”
Youth coaches named by the Wild’s California connection as positive influences include August Aiken, Doug Baird, John Beaulieu, Jack Bowkus, Curtis Brown, Dakota Eveland, Leo Fenn, Sandy Gasseau, Mike Janda, Eugene Kabanets, Alex Kim, Mike Lewis, Tim McGrath, Shawn Pitcher, Scott Shand, Fernando Soltero, Louis Soltero, Jeff Turcotte, Punky Vandenberg, David Walker and Nate Weossner.
“This season has meant so much to me,” said Usher. “The brotherly bond I have made with all my teammates has been second to none. The learning experience from coaching staff has been unbelievable. The amount of support from the Wild association, including the wonderful fans, has been out of this world. I can’t wait to come back next year and do it all again.”
“This season has been very special,” added Wozniak. “The fans here have also been unbelievable all year. Playing in front of about 3,000 fans at home has made playing here a lot of fun. The support here is incredible.”
— Matt Mackinder
(July 13, 2018)