Long Beach starts WSHL season strong
It’d be difficult to find a more diverse locker room in all of hockey than that of the Long Beach Bombers.
And with seven wins in their first 10 games to start the Western States Hockey League (WSHL) season, it’s an exciting time for head coach Chris White as he guides his own version of the United Nations.
“We’re pretty happy,” said White. “The games we’ve lost have been to teams that traditionally are at the top of our league, and I’m OK losing some of those games as long as we can take something out of it. We’ve got a good group, and if we keep moving in the right direction we have a good future ahead of us.”
With players from seven different countries – the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Switzerland, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic – communication, on and off the ice, is at a premium for the Bombers – perhaps even more than other junior teams.
“If you were to look at our training camp practices until today, we’ve completely turned a corner,” said White, who’s in his fifth season as head coach and general manager. “We really have to consider the language barrier – some key words that American and Canadian kids understand don’t always translate the right way to someone from another country, or they’ve never heard it before. We realize it takes a group like this longer to get on the same page, both culturally and on the ice.
“The boys have done a good job of being patient and understanding, and while some guys speak and understand English better than others, there’s a group effort to help all the guys work on their English; it’s really helped our camaraderie and teamwork.”
The international flair to the Bombers is no accident. White hosted a prospects camp in Marsta, Sweden, in early May that featured no fewer than nine of the Bombers Swedish alumni helping out both on and off the ice, selling recruits on the virtues of playing in the WSHL and living in Long Beach.
“It goes so much further than wins and losses in a single season,” said White. “We’ve cast such a big web with Sweden really being a hot market for us because of how many alumni we have; we just build year by year.
“But it’s not just the Swedes; most kids who grow up in the Hungarian hockey system never get out of it, and for our two Hungarian kids to come from the pinnacle of Hungarian hockey and have Russians and Swedes and Americans and all the rest of us in this environment, it’s just a great experience for everyone.”
With a team goal-differential of plus-16 through 10 games, White likes what he sees early on. Forwards Anders Romegard (seven goals, 19 points) and Tomas Urbanec (10 goals, 16 points) were averaging well over a point per game through 10 games, and with a scorching Daniel Kornakker in goal (6-2-1 record, 2.49 goals-against average, .933 save percentage in nine appearances), White feels the foundation is in place to make a run at the top spot in the Western Division.
“I don’t think there’s a team deeper than us,” said White. “Kornakker is a legit No. 1 goaltender in this league, our forward group is deeper than it’s ever been, and we’re able to consistently roll three defense pairings.”
But even though White is flush with optimism, he acknowledges that there’s a lot of work to be done between the potential he sees now and the puck dropping on the WSHL postseason in March.
“We all have to be patient because you have such an eclectic blend of players,” said White. “The talent and the commitment are there, but it’s still a long process.
“We’ve got a long season ahead of us and we’ve always got in the back of our minds that we’re preparing for March and April.”
– John B. Spigott