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Jr. Sharks’ 16U AAA girls work towards goal

 

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Head coach Bobby Long and his San Jose Jr. Sharks 16U AAA girls squad will certainly be familiar with airports by the time this season is over.

With a full slate of tournaments across the country, combined with a local schedule that’s a mix of games against teams ranging from Bantam AA, A and B boys clubs to a senior women’s team in San Jose, Long is using a variety of opponents to prep his charges for run at Pacific District regionals, and ideally a trip to the USA Hockey National Championships.

“We’re always working on improving skill sets,” Long said prior to boarding a plane to Rochester, N.Y., for the annual Fire on Ice tournament that was held the first weekend of November. “That’s one of the biggest things at this level – just working on getting better on a day-to-day basis.

“We also really focus on the concept of working as a team. If we’re going to get where we want to go, we need 19 girls going in the same direction. The team is only going to go as far as our players take it, and that happens a lot easier when everyone is working together.”

The Jr. Sharks have already had tournament success early on this season, as they went to the finals of the Two Nations Cup in Detroit in late October where they fell to Alaska in the gold-medal game, 2-0.

“The team played well, but there’s always things you can work on to get better,” said Long. “We lost in the finals, but we played in the 19U division, which was kind of a mix between 16U AAA and 19U AA. I’m really happy though; the girls played hard and were able to take all the things we’ve worked on in practice and translate that over to the games.”

Having already played in tournaments in Boston and Detroit – in addition to the Fire on Ice showcase, which was held from Nov. 6-8 – there are still several high-profile tournaments to go as the Jr. Sharks build towards regionals, which will be showcased in Alaska in March.

Long and his team will be in Anaheim over Thanksgiving Weekend and Philadelphia over Christmas and New Year’s before hosting a tournament in San Jose in January and traveling to Vancouver in February – all in preparation for the trip to Alaska in March, which will determine what team in the 16U AAA division will head to nationals.

“We do team travel, so all of it is done with just the coaching staff and maybe one other parent,” said Long. “The girls room three or four to a room, and we do all the team meals together. We’re playing high-level hockey, and we try and conduct ourselves off the ice in a way that reflects that.”

Balancing out the heavy tournament schedule in a season that’ll see the team play over 50 games are matchups against different Northern California Bantam boys teams, and while the style of play is different from what the Jr. Sharks see during tournament play, Long says that isn’t a bad thing at all.

“Against the boys, we kind of look at those games as an extension of practice,” said the coach. “We use those games to help us gear up for our tournaments and, ultimately, regionals, but those types of games against the boys are really good for us. When we can play those teams close, it really helps us in our tournament play.”

Going forward, the ultimate focus remains on the Pacific District regionals in Alaska, and fighting for the right to represent the west at the nationals, which will run from March 31-April 4 in Minneapolis.

For Long, that means consistently doing the little things right along the way.

“We’re looking to keep improving as we go,” said Long. “Our season is really geared towards that weekend in March in Alaska. We obviously want to have good showings at our tournaments throughout the year, but that one weekend is the one you have to win to advance to the national championships.

“But as long as we keep building and taking steps to improve, we’ll be in good shape heading into that tournament to perform well and, hopefully, earn our way to nationals.”

– John B. Spigott