Editor’s Column: Sacramento’s outdoor experience a winner
Best known as home of the Sacramento River Cats – the AAA affiliate of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants – Raley Field was recently transformed into a playground for ice hockey enthusiasts.
An American Hockey League game played on Dec. 19 between the Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors kicked off the outdoor festivities – among other public skating events – and then the youth segment was treated to the Golden State Hockey Rush Tournament, which took center stage over the holidays.
Forty-eight teams from across California, as well as Nevada, Utah and Washington, took part in the spectacle, with champions crowned in 10 divisions: Midget 18U AA (Golden State Elite Eagles); Midget 18U A/High School (Vacaville Jets); Midget 16U A/High School (Vacaville); Bantam AA (Nevada Storm); Bantam A (Capital Thunder); Pee Wee AA (California Goldhawks); Pee Wee A (Los Angeles Jr. Kings); Pee Wee B (Tahoe Grizzlies); Squirt BB (Bakersfield Dragons); and Squirt B (Fresno Jr. Monsters). A Mite Jamboree was also showcased the day after Christmas.
And while the elements were vastly different from playing a traditional indoor game – from, at times, rainy and foggy weather to adapting to the sunshine and stadium lights – by all accounts the event was a resounding success.
“It was great watching everyone adjust to the conditions and loving every minute of it,” said Laura Cahn, who served as tournament director. “The kids truly had an amazing experience, and it was an honor to be part of it.”
Two more California-trained players made NCAA Division I plans recently, as Gavin Nieto committed to Brown University and Brian Williams announced his intentions to attend and play hockey at the University of Massachusetts.
Nieto, a goaltender from Yorba Linda who played locally with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, West Valley Wolves, California Wave and Jr. Kings, is stopping pucks this season for the North American Hockey League’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Williams, a forward from Poway who grew up skating for the San Diego Jr. Gulls and LA Selects, is playing this season with the United States Hockey League’s Omaha Lancers.
Members of the Jr. Ducks’ Pee Wee AAA 03 team were treated to a special surprise earlier this month when Cam Fowler paid them a visit during one of their practices at The Rinks-Lakewood Ice.
In cooperation with Bauer Hockey, the Anaheim Ducks defenseman came equipped with brand-new Bauer Supreme 1S sticks, which won’t be released until later this month, for each player on the squad.
“The kids were beyond excited about both the sticks and meeting Cam,” said Jr. Ducks head coach Jean Labbe. “It was incredibly generous and the Bauer reps did a phenomenal job.
“We were able to keep it quiet from the kids, too, which added to the enthusiasm.”
The Jr. Ducks’ Pee Wees will head to Canada next month to participate in the famed Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament. Fowler spoke to the team about his experience at the event when his Detroit-based Honeybaked club lost to Team Illinois in the semifinals.
“That was neat,” Labbe added. “It was great for the kids to hear from a great player.”
Don’t look now, but the USA Hockey National Championships are just a couple months away.
This year, Sharks Ice-San Jose will roll out the red carpet for the nation’s top Tier I 18U and 16U boys teams from March 31-April 4, marking another signature event for local youth hockey.
“This is a great opportunity for California hockey, and more specifically Northern California hockey,” said Mike Janda, the San Jose Jr. Sharks’ 16U AAA National and American coach who’s heading up the tournament’s organizing efforts.
“We have a fantastic, state-of-the-art building that has outstanding ice, and we have a very hard-working and determined staff that continuously keeps our facility operating at a high standard.”
Leading up to nationals, El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center will host the Tier I Midget and Bantam boys divisions for Pacific District regionals, which will run from March 2-6.
Congrats to Panorama City-born Angela Ruggiero, who last month was enshrined into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
A four-time Olympic medalist – she helped the U.S. win its first-ever gold in 1998 – Ruggiero, a defenseman, was a dominating force on the blue line throughout her 15-plus-year career with the U.S. Women’s National Team
Ruggiero played for the Pasadena Maple Leafs as a youth before moving to Michigan. She went on to play four years at Harvard University, helping the Crimson win a national championship in 1999.
She was also inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in November.
– Brian McDonough