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Jr. Sharks’ revamped girls program provides more choices

 

JrSharksGirls

The San Jose Jr. Sharks are making changes to the structure of their girls program with a focus on streamlining the older age groups.

Beginning in the fall, the Jr. Sharks will launch a 17U AAA team, but because USA Hockey doesn’t have a 17U AAA classification, that team will declare as a 19U AA team to compete at the Pacific and National levels. The 17U AAA team will also play at all the major North American tournaments at that level with the hopes of maximizing exposure in front of college coaches. Locally, the 17U AAA squad will also compete in the Northern California league.

Additionally, in the hopes of continually feeding players into the 17U team, the Jr. Sharks have established a 16U AAA/AA team that will compete alongside the 17U AAA throughout the season. The Jr. Sharks organization feels that by creating an elite 16U program to pair alongside the 17U, more opportunities will be created to give elite players more exposure.

Finally, with an eye on maximizing options for girls throughout the organization, the Jr. Sharks also announced that they have established a team that will play in the Sharks High School Hockey League, where the level is geared more towards players who want to experience the competition without as much of a commitment.

The Jr. Sharks will still have girls teams at the 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U levels.

“With the restructuring, we’re giving the girls that are high school age three teams to play on,” said Bobby Long, who will serve as head coach for both the 17U AAA team and the 16U AAA/AA team. “The biggest change comes at 16, where instead of having a 16U team and a 19U team, we’ve added the 17U. It was always hard to field that 19U team, so we’re breaking it up into three teams, so the girls are on the proper teams for their skill sets.”

Prior to the shakeup, Long said it was often challenging to field a team at the 19U level, as most girls graduate high school at 17 or 18 and leave the program to go to college. By adding a hybrid 17U AAA/19U AA team, the Jr. Sharks gain some added personnel flexibility while at the same time allowing the players to play at the highest level possible against the best competition, thereby maximizing the opportunity for exposure to college scouts.

An added bonus to adding a team at this age group is that the age range matches more closely with the Canadian system, which gives the Jr. Sharks more opportunity to play against elite Canadian teams.

“In the old system, if a girl played 16U she could be a junior in high school,” said Long. “So for her senior year, she jumps up to 19U for one year and then they move on to college or wherever. So it’s been hard to have girls stick around to fill out that roster at 19U, especially when you consider the number of girls playing in the Jr. Sharks organization is significantly less than what you have on the boys side – it could sometimes leave the 19U a little short.”

Not to be overlooked is the addition of the first girls high school hockey team, which will play against boys teams next season.

“The high school hockey team gives girls an opportunity to develop and play without the commitment that’s required of a Tier I or Tier II classification,” said Long. “It’s an option for girls to go out and have fun and play the game they love to play, but without the travel and the cost of playing at those higher tier levels.”

Ultimately, these changes were implemented to help promote and develop competitive hockey within the Jr. Sharks organization.

“I think the Jr. Sharks girls program has a very strong foundation, and you can see that in the younger age groups,” said Long. “We are getting a lot of the younger girls in the Learn to Skate programs, and those numbers continue to grow. So hopefully by restructuring the older age groups while keeping the younger groups the way they are, I think it benefits both the current girls as well as the future of the program.”

— John B. Spigott