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LAKHSHL keeps growing, set to expand for 2017-18 season

 

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The L.A. Kings High School Hockey League is expanding again, with one new varsity team and three junior varsity squads – as well as a newly renamed varsity squad – to be added for the 2017-18 season.

The South Bay Stingrays are new at the varsity level, while the former South County Aviators have been renamed the Newbury Park Panthers, with the idea that they’ll become a “pure” team in the next few years. At the junior varsity level, new teams include the South County Panthers, the South Bay Stingrays and the Bishop Union Broncos.

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It’s a positive sign that the league, entering its third year, is continuing to grow and offer more and more kids the opportunity to play hockey at the high school level. There will be 10 varsity teams and seven junior varsity teams in the league next season.

“We’re very excited about the growth, because we have seen a shift from travel hockey to high school hockey,” said Emma Tani, the coordinator of league and rinks, hockey development for the LA Kings. “We want to see this side of hockey continue to grow because we think being able to play high school hockey and being able to represent your school is such a great opportunity for hockey players in California.”

Newbury Park and South County (its JV program) will play out of Simi Valley Iceoplex. Jason Schwetz will coach the varsity team and Paddy O’Donnell and Spencer Votipka will coach the JV squad.

“We wanted to add a team in the Kings league because we felt that kids at that age level needed more places to play,” said O’Donnell, who has been involved in coaching youth hockey in Simi Valley for many years. “I believe the level of play in the high school league is getting better and better, and it’s a cost-effective way for families to be involved.

“Any other avenue for kids to play hockey is a great thing.”

Schwetz has coached in the Kings league since it started with the 2015-16 season and is excited to continue with the hopes of making Newbury Park a pure team.

“I have been a big proponent of high school hockey for a very long time,” Schwetz said. “With the success of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, it was inevitable that this was going to happen in the Los Angeles area. It is the right way to go, in my opinion.”

Bishop Union comes to the league with a unique situation, being located more than 250 miles from Los Angeles. The team will practice in South Lake Tahoe and Mammoth Lakes, and will play its “home” games in Valencia so other teams in the league are not burdened with excessive travel times to and from Bishop, a town set in the Eastern Sierras in remote Inyo County with less than 4,000 residents and just one high school.

“We’ve spent the last two seasons with the Anaheim Ducks league, but it’s a long drive to Orange County, so the LA Kings League makes more sense for us,” Bishop Union coach Cronus Dillard said. “I considered moving to the Kings league last season, but I wanted to make sure they had ironed out any kinks before making the switch.”

Dillard said his players require a special level of dedication to hockey, given that they will spend considerably more time traveling to and from practices and games than they will on the ice.

“Our kids are in kind of a special situation since they all grew up together,” he said. “There’s only one elementary school in Bishop, one middle school and one high school. So they’re a tight-knit bunch, and when we head down south to play hockey we’re representing not just Bishop Union High School, but the entire town.”

— Greg Ball