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LAKHSHL expanding playoff format to allow for six teams

 

LAKHSHL 2016-17 champion Santa Barbara Royals

As the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League enters the stretch run of its third season, it has made a significant change that should make the league even more competitive and exciting for players, coaches and fans.

The league has announced that it will expand its varsity playoffs from four teams to six. The top two seeds will now receive a first-round bye, while the third seed will play the sixth seed in the first round, and the fourth and fifth seeds will play the same day. After the first round, the brackets will be re-seeded, with the first seed playing the fourth seed and the second taking on the third in the semifinals.

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Like in previous years, the semifinal winners will meet for the league’s championship game at the STAPLES Center. This year’s title game will be held Saturday, March 17 following the Kings’ 1 p.m. matchup with the New Jersey Devils.

Emma Tani, the coordinator of league and rinks in the hockey development division for the Kings, said that a lot of thought and discussion went into expanding the league’s playoffs, and the league’s leadership believes it will be a positive change that will not only allow more teams the experience of playing postseason hockey, but also will make regular-season games more meaningful.

“This decision was made recently when we realized how competitive the top six teams are with one another,” Tani said. “We think the change in playoff structure will not only allow for more games, but will keep the teams hungry for those playoff spots.”

To Tani’s point, as the calendar flipped to 2018, no more than four points separated any current playoff contender from the team above it in the standings. With six regular-season games remaining for most teams, the standings are extremely volatile, meaning that each game will take on greater importance as teams battle for the best possible playoff seeding.

Further expanding postseason opportunity for the league’s players, the top four teams in the junior varsity division will make it to playoffs, and the final two will play for the JV title at STAPLES Center – a first for the JV squads.

Jason McNamara is the president of the West Ranch Wildcats, a team that entered 2018 in sixth place in the league, three points behind the Burbank Cougars and six points ahead of the Valencia Vikings and South Bay Stingrays. He believes that expanding the playoffs can only help the league and its teams.

“Every youth hockey player in California wants to play at STAPLES Center for a championship,” McNamara said. “It truly is a unique hockey experience that only the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League provides.

“It is a great decision by the Kings as it will make the season more exciting for the players and all the high school hockey fans across Southern California. It is going to create an intense playoffs and championship that should help grow the league by attracting more players.”

West Ranch’s varsity team has made the playoffs the first two seasons of the league’s existence, but is still searching for its first postseason victory. The junior varsity squad made it to last year’s inaugural championship game before falling to the Santa Barbara Royals (pictured).

To illustrate how close all the teams are from a competitive standpoint, McNamara cited his team’s two games against the Newbury Park Panthers, who started 2018 as the league’s first-place team. While Newbury Park won both contests, they were both one-goal games.

“The L.A. Kings High School league doesn’t get enough credit for how good it is,” McNamara said. “There are some excellent hockey players and teams in this league, and this year is the most competitive the league has been since its inception three seasons ago.”

— Greg Ball

(Feb. 1, 2018)