High school game grows in L.A. County
By Greg Ball
It might not be sanctioned by the California Interscholastic Foundation like most other sports, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the hockey world who’d tell you that high school hockey isn’t booming in California.
The Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League announced recently that it has added 13 teams for the 2014-15 season, expanding to a total of 41 squads for its seventh season. While the numbers continue to grow, so does the reach of the league throughout Southern California.
After expansion into San Diego County and the Inland Empire, this season the march continued north and west into Los Angeles County. Among those added this season are St. John Bosco in Bellflower, Conejo Valley in the Ventura/Santa Barbara area and Torrance Unified.
“It’s an add-on to their travel hockey,” said Ben Cohen, the general manager for the Conejo Valley team, which is made up of players from 10 area high schools. “There are some kids at the older levels in youth hockey who know they’re not going to the NHL, and they don’t want the commitment of playing AAA hockey. Still, all of our kids play travel hockey at some level, and they also want to play high school hockey.”
The league started in 2008 with just one team. By the 2011-12 school year, it had grown to 11 teams, and two years later it included 28 teams.
“I really like the high school hockey, and the leadership at the school is really involved,” said Tomas Kapusta, who coaches the St. John Bosco team and has led them to a 4-0 start in the Junior Varsity North Division this season. “The students take pride in playing for their school.”
Chris Cognac teamed up with Art Wong to help start the two teams at Torrance Unified that are coached by Eric Raimondo, Bill Mendes and Paul Leigh. A hockey dad, Cognac said he got involved when he noticed that most of the Bantam players at the OC Hockey Club where his son played were playing high school hockey. He spent more than a year trying to get the teams together.
“The quality of the play and the officiating is top-notch,” Cognac said. “We’re really proud to be a part of it and to help it grow.
“For a lot of the kids playing 16A and 18A, I think this will be their last year in (the Southern California Hockey Association), and they want to be able to play for their schools and in the geographic area where they live. There’s an element of pride there – it says ‘Torrance’ on our jerseys.”
With the Ducks league having expanded so quickly, most everyone involved expects that it will continue.
“I anticipate the league will grow to 50-plus teams soon,” Cohen said. “The interest is there. What could be better than playing for your school? The backing of the Ducks makes it really appealing.”
Added Cognac, “This is the future of youth hockey. The kids want this, and they’re getting the exposure that they want from college coaches. My prediction is that within five years the Kings and Sharks will buy into this and it will be a statewide thing.”
The Ducks league features teams from 27 different schools playing in five divisions. The top-tier Western Prep Hockey League includes California schools JSerra (San Juan Capistrano), Santa Margarita and Bellarmine College Prep (San Jose) as well as Brophy College Prep (Phoenix), Fountain Valley (Colorado Springs) and Cathedral Catholic (Hamilton, Ontario).
Santa Margarita, JSerra and Bellarmine compete concurrently in Division I and are joined by Damien, Edison, Orange Lutheran and Servite.
Division II is made up of Capistrano United, Conejo Valley (Ventura/Santa Barbara), Corona-Norco, La Jolla Country Day, Long Beach Prep, Los Alamitos, Newport Mesa, San Diego South, Upland Christian and Villa Park.
There’s also a Junior Varsity A division that includes teams from Beckman (Irvine), Bishop Amat (La Puente), Cal Desert (Cathedral City), Capistrano United, Corona-Norco, Edison, Huntington Beach, JSerra, Los Alamitos, Orange Lutheran, St. John Bosco (Bellflower), Santa Margarita, Servite (Anaheim), Torrance Unified and Woodbridge (Irvine).
The Junior Varsity B division includes teams from Damien (La Verne), Long Beach Prep, Los Alamitos, Torrance Unified, Upland Christian and Villa Park.