Jr. Sharks’ 18U AAA squad holds high hopes
Regardless of how the season goes for his San Jose Jr. Sharks 18U AAA squad, head coach Kyle McLaren knows where it’s going to end up.
For the first time in USA Hockey history, the Boys Tier I National Championships will be held in the Pacific District – in San Jose from March 31-April 4, 2016 – where McLaren’s Jr. Sharks have bye into the tournament as the host team.
Just don’t expect the fourth-year coach to be content with the automatic bid.
“I want to get into nationals not just by hosting them, but by earning our way in like everyone else,” said McLaren. “I want to compete every night. Obviously, my goal is to win, but I’m also trying to set the bar for how I want us to play night in and night out.
“I love what I have with this club. Are we the most skilled team? No, but it’s my job to get these guys to work as hard as they can and compete.”
While the bulk of McLaren’s 2015-16 roster will be new faces, he returns his two top scorers from last year’s team that went 19-26-5 in 1997-born forwards Ryan Meure (29 goals and 50 points last season) and Eric Pinsky (21 goals and 38 points).
“This is the first year I’ve had a full turnover because I’ve been with the ’97 group since they were 15,” said McLaren, who’s carrying three ‘97-born players and one ‘99 to round out his 20-man roster – the bulk of whom were born in ‘98.
“I think the expectations are higher this year because we’re hosting nationals, but we need to worry about the smaller picture before that; we want to build talent within this organization so we’re able to compete every single year, not just when we’re hosting nationals.”
With so many new faces in the fold, McLaren will lean on his returning players – Meure, Pinsky and fellow forward Alexander Beckert – to lead the way, especially early in the season.
“The guys who are back know what I like and how I like to play,” said McLaren. “That said, I usually wait until I name captains because I want to see who rises to the top. Leaning on the older players at the beginning of the season is fine, but you’re going to need leadership and contributions from the younger kids as well.”
Knowing he already has an automatic berth to nationals might have inspired the 18U AAA coaching staff to look elsewhere around California – or perhaps even out-of-state – for some additional firepower, but McLaren says that was never an option.
“As a program, we want to work with the talent we have here in town,” said McLaren, “There’s nobody in from out of state; this is a localized program where we take the kids we have and go for it.
“That’s what I like doing, because you’re trying to develop the hometown. There are teams out there that like to recruit kids into their program – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but we’re the San Jose Jr. Sharks, and that’s what we want to represent.”
Wins, losses and nationals success aside, emphasizing development will remain the club’s No. 1 priority.
“The expectations are certainly there for this year, but you also want to make sure these kids keep progressing and are able to move on and play somewhere next year, too, if they want, whether it’s junior, college or whatever,” said McLaren.
– John B. Spigott