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Orange Lutheran poised for more promise

 

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Last year sparked magic for Orange Lutheran High School’s hockey program.

An Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) title and a California Amateur Hockey Association state championship will earn that descriptor – and the Lancers are looking for more.

Orange Lutheran kicked off this season by winning its division at the International Hockey Events Labor Day Festival championship in Lake Forest. It then found itself in Colorado for the Twisted Wrister High School Tournament where it went 1-3-1.

After going winless at the USA Hockey National Championships last season, the Lancers actually didn’t mind the fact that they struggled in Colorado.

Senior winger Jacob Heller believes it’ll benefit his team to learn the lessons of defeat early in this campaign.

“We don’t want to go into nationals like last year having only lost a few games (the Lancers went 40-7-2 overall in 2014-15),” he said. “If we don’t play our best against top teams, we can lose, and we need to learn that from the get-go.”

Heller added that the team gained great confidence from the team it did best in Colorado – defending combined national champion Cherry Creek (Greenwood Village, Colo.).

Orange Lutheran, which started the season 10-4-1, made a point of entering the Colorado tournament so it could face the teams it didn’t see until nationals last year. One of the losses came at the hands of defending pure champion Regis Jesuit (Aurora, Colo.), with the Lancers falling to the Raiders, 2-0.

“It was great for us to be tested against those tough teams early on,” Lancers captain Chase Young said. “It sounds weird, but it’s good to lose a couple of games right off the bat.”

These tight, competitive games have become necessary for an Orange Lutheran team that’s seen its Division I field scaled back to four squads in the ADHSHL; the other teams include Santa Margarita, JSerra, and Bellarmine of San Jose.

The majority of Orange Lutheran’s games this season have been tightly-contested. Part of the reasoning could be the loss of graduated defensemen Riley Kraemer and Nolan McElhaney, who were more than willing to join the rush from the blue line a year ago.

“They were top 10 or 15 (offensive players) in the league, and they were defensemen,” Heller said of the pair. “Losing them, ultimately, we did lose some scoring.

“The good thing is we didn’t lose any defense because we brought in some great stay-at-home guys.”

The Lancers are also comfortable with their goaltending situation. Conner Taherian has received the majority of the starts for Orange Lutheran this year, as A.J. Frosh has been traveling with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks’ 18U AAA team.

Lancers coach Dan Adams noted that Taherian is also a AAA-level talent.

Orange Lutheran has lost some key players from its championship roster. Jared Day (Brooks School in North Andover, Mass.) and McElhaney (Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass.) are playing prep school on the East Coast; Kraemer is playing juniors with the Boston Bandits of the Eastern Hockey League; and Stephen Goodman is playing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association at the University of Denver.

“It’s great to see our players move on and get opportunities at higher levels,” Adams said. “To see them carry on what they started here is great.”

In just the sixth year of the program, the Lancers have a lot of reasons to be thinking big. With the addition of a Division III squad, this is the first year Orange Lutheran has put three teams on the ice in a single season.

“For us, as a program, it’s very exciting,” Adams said. “We have over 50 players now where we started out with just 15.

“I don’t know that anyone thought Orange Lutheran would become a hockey powerhouse.”

– Andrew Turner