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Jr. Gulls grads excelling at all levels of college game

 

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Playing for the San Diego Jr. Gulls opens up different paths for players to take once their youth hockey career comes to an end.

Going into the 2019-20 season, several former Jr. Gulls will dot college hockey rosters at all levels of the game.

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Nate Kallen is a senior captain at NCAA Division I Ferris State University, while Jack Gates is entering his junior season at Colorado College. At the NCAA D-III level, Nick Schultze is now a sophomore at Tufts University and Kyle Rimbach will be a senior at St. Olaf College. Three more players – P.J. Smigliani (UCLA), Aaron Mayer (San Diego State), Cameron Wojnicki (Grand Canyon University) – are excelling at ACHA schools.

“Above all else, the Jr. Gulls program is a culture of development and putting the kids first,” said Noah Babin, a longtime Jr. Gulls coach and University of Notre Dame and USA Hockey’s NTDP graduate. “Our primary concern is the kids improving, not championships won. The coaches are not in it for anything other than seeing the kids progress and I think that is seen through many of the players who have moved on.”

“The Jr. Gulls helped me tremendously in my development mainly because I was able to train close to home in San Diego and not have to travel two hours north to LA,” said Kallen (pictured). “The program has really grown since I was there.”

Gates said the Jr. Gulls “make you feel part of a family.”

“Every coach knew every player and every player, no matter the division, supported one another, whether it be older guys helping out in camps or practices or younger guys cheering on the older teams,” said Gates. “Being born and raised in San Diego, I’m very hopeful that the Jr. Gulls organization is going in a very good direction for the future.”

Schultze noted that the development he experienced with the Jr. Gulls was second to none.

“I learned a lot about the game and developed my skills a lot thanks to the coaches I’ve had throughout my years as a Jr. Gull,” Schultze said. “The Jr. Gulls program has grown a lot since I’ve played with the program. There are more and more players coming out of the program and playing high level junior and college hockey.”

According to Rimbach, the Jr. Gulls coaches and players add to the prestige of the association.

“I was able to be pushed not only by coaches but also by players who were extremely dedicated to the game,” Rimbach said. “These guys put in the extra work and that inspired me to work even harder. Ultimately, that extra time led me to college hockey.”

Wojnicki said playing for the Jr. Gulls was “something I’ll always remember.”

“The biggest changes that I can see from the exposure I’ve had with the program and my past coaches is the fact that we’ve grown to now have women’s hockey teams,” Wojnicki said. “I actually played alongside female players like Keely Moy (now at Harvard University). It’s cool to see that they have expanded in that way and opened up new opportunities for young female players in the area.”

Two of Smigliani’s UCLA teammates – Matt Bodhan and Billy Zegras – are former Jr. Gulls.

“The Jr. Gulls program has grown considerably since my days there,” Smigliani said. “My sister, Samantha, who is three years younger than me, also played with the Jr. Gulls at a time when she and one other girl (Tanner Gates, Jack’s younger sister) were the only two girls on the Bantam AAA team, and often the only two in the rink.”

Smigliani and Gates are now playing NCAA Division I hockey at Colgate University.

“Playing for the Jr. Gulls really opened my eyes to just how competitive hockey is outside of California,” Mayer said. “The program has really expanded its competitive side, now having multiple AA and AAA teams at different levels.”

Photo/Ferris State Athletics

— Matt Mackinder

(Aug. 6, 2019)