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Long Beach, Valencia red-hot as WSHL season enters stretch run

 

Flyers Bombers 1

The 2016-17 Western States Hockey League (WSHL) season is playing out much the same as last year for the Long Beach Bombers and the Valencia Flyers.

Both programs are again among the Tier II junior league’s elite, as the Bombers lead the Western Division with 57 points as of mid-January, while the Flyers are nipping at their heels with a point total of 53. The battle down the stretch will be for home-ice advantage – not only throughout the Western Division playoffs, but in the race for the Thorne Cup as WSHL champions. With about one-third of the season to go, Long Beach and Valencia boast the top two records in the league.

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Long Beach Bombers (28-3-1)

With no shortage of firepower, the Bombers are one of only two WSHL teams to have already surpassed the 200-goal mark on the campaign. With 11 players averaging over a point per game, including a pair of Swedish forwards in Anton Bowallius (11 goals, 41 assists, 52 points) and Robert Roslund (16-34-50), the Bombers have a deep, balanced attack. Long Beach was in fine form at the recent WSHL Shootout showcase event in Las Vegas, winning three of four, including an overtime win against the defending champs from Idaho.

On the back end, Long Beach also boasts one of the top goaltending tandems in the WSHL, as Domenic Bosetti (16-2-1, .921 save percentage, 2.06 goals-against average) and Max Barr (12-1-0, .906 save percentage, 2.29 GAA) are among the league’s best.

Valencia Flyers (25-7-3)

The Flyers kept pace with the Bombers in Las Vegas at the late-December showcase, also winning three of four games. Led by goaltender Garrett Kingsbury (13-5-1, 2.42 GAA .925 save percentage), the Flyers beat Casper 1-0 to finish off the tournament, where they also beat Bellingham and Springfield.

On offense, the Flyers are led by Jordan Hank, whose line of 24-29-53 puts him in eighth spot in the WSHL in scoring, and Joseph Hebert, who has 21 goals and 45 points in 35 games.

Ontario Avalanche (22-13-0)

The Avalanche are set to improve on a solid season from a year ago, all while competing in arguably the toughest division in the WSHL. Under the guidance of first-year head coach Rob O’Rourke, the Avalanche have posted a 13-4-0 record on home ice and boast three of the top point-getters in the WSHL.

Filip Ullgren (31-37-68), Filip Stensson (21-47-68) and Manuel Mancha (28-37-65) will lead the Avalanche into the postseason where they will need all the scoring they can muster as they will likely have to topple both Valencia and Long Beach just to escape the Western Division.

San Diego Sabers (19-14-2)

One of the most improved teams in the WSHL, the Sabers are eyeing the playoffs after missing the postseason last year with a 9-39-1 record. Led by Canadian forward Kevin Dumont (24-20-44), the Sabers have kept pace in the West after rebuilding their team in the offseason, all with the goal of making some noise in the spring.

“We went into the offseason looking to build an entire team,” said Sabers general manager Jim Cavataio. “Our goal at the start of the season was to get back into the playoffs and we know once you’re in the postseason, anything can happen.”

Fresno Monsters (13-17-4)

The lowest ranked of the five California teams, the Monsters have nonetheless been playing much better hockey lately after making a change behind the bench.

Ex-NHL enforcer Kevin Kaminski took the helm of the Monsters after the team went 2-4-0 in the first six games of the season, which included an opening weekend drubbing in Long Beach that saw Fresno outscored 37-0. Since then, the Monsters have played better than .500 hockey and recently ran the table at the WSHL Shootout, winning all four games.

Fresno native Cody Key has been the Monsters’ top player offensively, putting up a 19-33-52 line through 32 games.

Tahoe Icemen (7-24-4)

Playing in the Northwest Division, the Icemen’s Ivan Radetskyi is second in the division with 24 goals and 57 points.

In net, Luke Cohen and Wade Conlan have combined to win seven games this season.

Photo/Mark Mauno

— John B. Spigott