Jr. Kings’ 16U AAA team finding its potential
If there’s one youth hockey coach who’s able to maximize the potential of each of his players for the betterment of the team, it’s Jack Bowkus.
The head coach of the Los Angeles Jr. Kings’ 16U AAA club – he guided last year’s team to a Pacific District championship and a trip to the USA Hockey National Championships – Bowkus this season is armed with the task of molding a relatively fresh group of players into another winning contingent.
Slowly but surely, says Bowkus, the club is starting to find its identity thanks to its players beginning to embrace their individual responsibilities, on and off the ice.
“They’re all willing to learn and eager to learn,” said Bowkus. “They’re starting to bond together as a team and they’re starting to push for one goal, which is most important.”
It’s been no easy task, though, considering the club returned only three players from last year’s team in forwards Nick Castro (pictured) and Hiro Cox and defenseman Callahan Neuroth.
With Castro, who was selected in Phase I of the 2016 United States Hockey League Draft by the Dubuque Fighting Saints and the 2015 Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft by the Everett Silvertips, and Cox sidelined for much of the early part of the season with injuries, Neuroth has been leaned upon heavily to assume a sizable leadership role and, according to Bowkus, hasn’t disappointed.
“I think he’s done a great job,” said the coach. “He’s a quiet, mild-mannered kid who plays with a big heart and he’s one of the hardest-working players on our team.”
And without a game-changing player or two Bowkus has been able to call upon in years past, it’s going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach if this Jr. Kings team wants to get back to the districts and, ultimately, nationals.
“We have to do it by committee, we have to do it by team,” said Bowkus. “And that’s where I think the challenge is – to get everybody to buy in and accept that and look themselves in the mirror and ask, ‘Am I as good as I really think I am, or should I be working harder to be the guy I think I am?’
“But we’re starting to move in the right direction; I’m seeing a lot of positive things we’ve been working on in practice that are translating into game scenarios, which is awesome.
“And I see different players starting to contribute in other areas – not just offensively, but on the defensive side of the puck. And they’re doing some of the little things we’ve been working on – the details parts of the game that are important to a (junior or college) program when they move on; I’m starting to see a lot of that from every player.”
One player who’s wasted little time making an impact is Sahil Panwar. A member of the Jr. Kings’ Pacific District-champion Bantam Major team a season ago, the gifted 2002-born forward totaled eight goals and an assist through 15 Tier I Elite League games this year.
“He’s got a lot of potential and a lot of eyes on him every game,” said Bowkus, who also acknowledges 2001-born forwards Jacob Brockman and Connor Kemp for their swift acclimations to the 16U AAA level. “He’s a player getting a lot of interest from a lot of different people and a lot of different leagues, which is tremendous for him.”
At the other end of the rink, the goaltending tandem of Mattias Sholl and Dustin Wolf, who was selected by Everett in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, has been nothing short of exceptional, according to Bowkus.
“Either could be a No. 1 in our league,” he said. “They’re both very skilled goalies with bright futures ahead of them. They’re both huge parts of our team.”
As is Bowkus’ support staff. Along with the tireless efforts of longtime team manager Helen Alex, assistant coaches Barry Dreger, Robbert McDonald, Chase Souto and Nick Vachon have been instrumental in helping the club develop, on and off the ice.
“As far as I’m concerned, I have the best minor hockey coaching staff in the country,” said Bowkus.
And the decorated coach is eager to see what his club can accomplish in the months ahead.
“The entire season has made every individual on this team a better person, including myself,” said Bowkus.
– Brian McDonough