Jr. Kings, Jr. Ducks collect banners at Pacific Districts
The Los Angeles Jr. Kings won two USA Hockey Pacific District Tier I boys titles and the Anaheim Jr. Ducks collected one banner during the first weekend in March at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
The Jr. Kings won championships at Bantam and Midget 16U, while the Jr. Ducks captured the 18U title. The Midget teams will compete in the USA Hockey Youth Nationals in San Jose from March 31-April 4, while the Bantam squad heads to Anchorage, Alaska, for Nationals that same week.
The California Wave’s 16U AAA girls team captured a Pacific District title in Anchorage, and the Anaheim Lady Ducks 14U AAA and 19U AAA teams advanced to nationals unopposed. All three of those clubs will compete in Minneapolis, Minn.
Bantam: The Jr. Kings won all four of their games, culminating with a 2-1 overtime victory over the Jr. Ducks.
Sahil Panwar fed Caden Creasy for a one-timer on an uncontested play a little more than three minutes into overtime for the winning goal.
“The boys had a good weekend,” Jr. Kings coach Shawn Pitcher said. “Defensively, we were pretty good and we had great goaltending all weekend from Dustin Wolf.”
The Jr. Kings started the tournament with a 5-1 victory over the Jr. Ducks, who had won the CAHA regular-season and postseason titles. The Jr. Kings then shut out the San Diego Jr. Gulls 1-0 and beat the San Jose Jr. Sharks 2-1 to set up the championship matchup.
“We asked the boys to play hard and be hard to play against,” Pitcher said. “We blocked a lot of shots in the final.
“Our team was up and down all year. We had some injury problems about a month in, and we were trying to find consistency. At districts, we put four pretty good games together. I’m glad to see the boys get the opportunity to experience Nationals.”
The Jr. Ducks bounced back from their opening loss to beat the Jr. Sharks 6-1 and the Jr. Gulls 7-0 to reach the final.
Midget 16U: The Jr. Kings persevered through a round-robin loss and a couple of injuries in a semifinal en route to their championship.
The Jr. Kings defeated the Alaska Oilers 5-1 to punch their ticket to nationals.
“Everyone was a big piece of the puzzle in this success,” Jr. Kings coach Jack Bowkus said. “Our team improved a lot in several areas. Winning districts is a great accomplishment for these kids.”
The Jr. Kings won their first two games by a combined 14-2 over the Everett Jr. Silvertips and the Fairbanks Artic Lions before falling to the Jr. Ducks 16U Minor team 4-3.
“A lot of positives came out of that loss to the Jr. Ducks’ minor team,” Bowkus said.
The lessons served the Jr. Kings well in a 3-2 semifinal victory against their big rival, the Jr. Ducks Major team.
“How the team responded when we lost two key guys (forwards Jake McGrew and Jackson Wozniak) in the semifinal was huge,” Bowkus said. “One was hurt on the first shift and another was hurt a bit later on. Guys stepped up. Players were playing different positions. We got into some penalty trouble and killed those off.
“We had third-, fourth-line players playing huge rules. And our goaltender, Jagger Denys, played the best I’ve seen him play, the most focused I’ve seen him.”
The Jr. Ducks Major team was undefeated in round-robin play, topping Kent Valley 16-0, the Oilers 2-1 and the California Titans 4-1.
The Jr. Ducks Minor team also went undefeated entering the semifinals, where they fell to the Oilers 3-2. In addition to the Jr. Kings, the Jr. Ducks also defeated the Arctic Lions 7-1 and the Jr. Silvertips 6-1 in round-robin play.
The Titans finished 1-2, defeating Kent Valley 9-0.
Midget 18U: The Jr. Ducks blanked the Wave 4-0 in the final behind goalie A.J. Frosh. The Jr. Ducks had lost to the Wave 3-1 in the preceding game after opening with victories over the Jr. Kings and Titans.
The Wave reached the final after an opening loss to the Titans, 3-2, and a 5-1 triumph over the Jr. Kings.
In Tier I, the Wave 16Us defeated the San Jose Jr. Sharks 3-0 to capture the title in Anchorage.
The victory capped an undefeated weekend for the Wave, who also blanked the Jr. Sharks 2-0 in their opener. In addition, the Wave doubled up the Lady Ducks 4-2 and routed the Jr. Admirals 9-1 before the final.
In Tier II competition in Anchorage, the Jr. Sharks fell 2-1 in the 14U final to the Northstars. The Jr. Sharks bounced back from an opening defeat to win three games in a row and reach the championship game.
Jr. Ducks fight adversity to win 18U AAA District title
The Jr. Ducks started the Pacific Districts in El Segundo with neither of their goaltenders available and ended up earning the organization’s first trip to nationals at the Midget 18U AAA level.
“No championship is easy, and everyone has to handle adversity, but this team pulled through every distraction,” Jr. Ducks coach Larry Barron said.
The Jr. Ducks defeated the Wave 4-0 in a final determined by a goal-differential tiebreaker between them and the California Titans.
Brandon Bergado, Jack Sitzman, Andre Ghantous and Matthew Poindexter scored goals to back A.J. Frosh’s shutout.
“All season we’ve talked about adversity – how would we face it – and resilience – staying together and playing to our team’s identity,” Barron said. “It was fantastic to see the boys do that when our season was on the line.”
A title was far from a certainty at the beginning of the tournament. One goalie, Rob Ivy, had to sit out the first two games because of a suspension he received during the CAHA state championship game. The other, Frosh, was so sick in the days leading up to districts that he ended up in the hospital.
So Barron turned to the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League to find a replacement, calling upon Santa Margarita High’s Dylan Gluck to start the opener. Gluck helped deliver a 5-1 victory against the Jr. Kings.
“He stood on his head,” Barron said. “And hats off to the rest of the team for putting up a brick wall in front of him.
“The team could have made excuses, but it just went out and played its heart out.”
Frosh felt well enough to start the second game, and he held up well during a 3-1 victory over the Titans that included an empty-net goal.
“I let the boys know A.J. was going to play the Friday game, and I told them, ‘Think about where he was a few days ago – in the hospital. He’s fighting for us, so what is your response going to be?’” Barron said. “It was one terrific game against a well-coached team in the Titans.”
Ivy returned for the third game, a 3-1 loss to the Wave. For the final, Barron returned to Frosh and challenged his team.
“We got beat by a good Wave team on Saturday, and the boys responded on Sunday with a well-executed game,” Barron said. “As a coach, that’s all you can ask for and I couldn’t be any prouder of or excited for the boys.”
— Chris Bayee