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Resilient Jr. Kings’ 12U AAA team reigns supreme in Quebec

 

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It’s tough to win them all at the Quebec Pee Wee International Tournament, but that didn’t matter for this year’s Los Angeles Jr. Kings’ 12U AAA team; it just won the five that counted most.

After opening the famed event, which regularly attracts the best Pee Wee-aged teams from around the globe, with a 5-2 loss to the Middlesex Islanders in the double-elimination tournament, the Jr. Kings were forced to win all of their remaining games if they were to become only the second California-based team in history to take home the top prize in the highest level of the 60-year-old tournament.

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“Obviously, I’m super-excited for the kids,” said Jr. Kings head coach Brett Beebe. “This was a total 17-player buy-in from everyone involved start to finish and I couldn’t be happier for them and the work they put in and obviously the families for everything they’ve done to help make this an amazing season.”

Despite falling to Middlesex – the No. 2-ranked team in the country – the resilient 2006 birth year group kept its focus the rest of the journey beginning with a pair of victories over the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers (5-1) and Whitby (Ontario) Wildcats (4-2) in its remaining pool-play games.

In the quarters, L.A. snuck out a 7-6 overtime victory over Russia’s SKA-Strelna St. Petersburg before taking down Team Minnesota in the semis, 3-2, in another tightly-contested game later that day.

That culminated in a championship matchup with the Czech (Republic) Knights at the 18,000-seat Centre Videotron, which the Jr. Kings won, 4-1.

And while losing the first game of the tournament, which ran from Feb. 13-24, instantly put the team’s back up against the wall, the Middlesex defeat didn’t rattle the focused group of Jr. Kings, who finished the season ranked No. 3 in the country.

“Honestly, it was an easy thing to rally around,” Beebe said of the loss to the Massachusetts-based team (the Jr. Kings conceded a pair of empty-net goals in the contest). “It was like, ‘Hey, if you guys play your game you can compete with anybody.’

“We got down multiple times in multiple games and there was never any panic from the kids,” said Beebe. “We had this mentality all season where we know we have a specific style of hockey we play and when we play it, we can beat anybody. And the kids believed in that and it honestly was huge for us.”

That unwavering confidence led right up to the finale against the Czechs, which was undeniably the biggest game of the players’ young hockey careers to date.

“The focus was unreal,” said Beebe, who was assisted behind the bench by Kyle Calder and Chase Souto. “We walked into the locker room before the championship game and it was like they’ve done this 100 times.

“And truly, the message before that game wasn’t, ‘Hey, this the Quebec championship;’ it was, ‘Hey, this is the next game of your season,’ and they all treated it that way.”

Along with the team’s strong leadership core that helped keep everyone on-script throughout the two-week spectacle, Beebe credits his players’ willingness to constantly pick each other up in critical moments.

“As different points throughout the year, different guys have bailed out our team, so sometimes it was our big scorers that popped in a big goal for us and sometimes it was our third line that scored a huge goal,” said Beebe. “And sometimes it was our goalies who held us in a game, and sometimes we’ve had to bail out our goalie, and each game during this tournament somebody else stepped up.”

Look no further than the team’s roller-coaster quarterfinal contest against the Russian team. The Jr. Kings found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard for a majority of the game before finding a way to close the deal in the extra session.

“Our goalies will be the first to admit they didn’t have their best games (against Russia), but the sense on the bench wasn’t that our goalies are having a tough game; it was, ‘Hey, our goalies have been so good all year; now it’s our time to step up,’” said Beebe.

“And they did. There was no panic. It was incredible. On the bench, it was like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get one (goal), then two, then we’re going to get more.’”

With the eager anticipation leading up to the tournament comes plenty of planning and preparation off the ice. Just ask the team’s manger, Carlie Chiovetti.

The mother of Jr. Kings forward Tyler Chiovetti, she says that while her families were beyond excited for their team’s opportunity to take on Quebec, budgeting, organizing team activities and relentless fundraising efforts were nonstop since last summer.

“It was definitely a unique season having to plan for Quebec, but all of our families went above and beyond helping pull everything together,” said Chiovetti, who estimates her team needled close to $38,000 in fundraising. “We have a great group of families and they all pitched in to make this experience one we’ll all never forget.

“It was a lot of work from a fundraising standpoint, but we received so much support from not only our families but the entire Jr. Kings community and beyond. Our kids are so incredibly thankful for the experience and we can’t say enough about everyone who’s helped us along the way.”

On top of all the extracurriculars that accompany the Quebec tourney, including sightseeing, pin-trading, snow tubing, playing pond hockey and settling in with their French-Canadian billet families, with whom the players resided during their stay, the 06’s also played four “friendlies” against the Adirondack Jr. Wings, Detroit Compuware, Quebec Nordiques and a team from Zurich, Switzerland.

“I loved the experience; everything about the tournament was great,” said Jr. Kings forward Pat Fortune. “Staying with our billet families was so much fun, and winning the championship is obviously something I’ll never, ever forget.

“The competition was great throughout the whole tournament, and winning the way we did was awesome.”

“The entire experience was amazing,” Tyler Chiovetti added. “I always believed in our team and that we could win the tournament, and so proud we actually did it.

“I think I speak for all my teammates, too, when I say we can’t thank enough all the people who supported us and made this dream a reality.”

Other members of the team, which went on to celebrate the California Amateur Hockey Association 12U AAA state championship the very next weekend, included forwards Nolan Caffey, David Ehrhard, Colin Frank, Braeden Hoffman, Oliver Morris, Aidan Park and Ethan Weber; defensemen Quentin Bourne, Kenny McIlwain, Drake Murray, Tory Pitner, Connolly Stice and Hunter Toms; and goaltenders Justin Bayers and Jackson Silverberg.

“They’re such a good group of kids,” said Beebe.

Something Beebe made a point of fostering right from the get-go. At the beginning of the season, the coach held a meeting with his players stressing the importance of channeling a selfless culture that embraced not only their team and its success, but also the good fortunes of the entire Jr. Kings program and its team-by-team efforts, on and off the ice.

Among other initiatives, the club, which finished the season with a 54-8-2 record overall, forged a strong relationship with the Jr. Kings’ 11U AAA 2007 birth year club engaging in practices, scrimmages and team-bonding experiences (the 07 team will head to Quebec next season), and a handful of the 12U AAA players lent their time helping out with the Jr. Kings’ 8U A1 group – also coached by Beebe.

“It’s how you interact with everybody and how you support everybody, because if you have support from the whole club and you have people rallying behind you it’s going to help you in the long run,” said Beebe.

Those good vibes infiltrated into the team’s locker room during Quebec, with plenty of social media posts from various Jr. Kings “watch parties” back home in L.A. and videos from all over the hockey community wishing nothing but good luck and congratulations to the team throughout the tournament.

“That was special to see, and I know how much our kids appreciated it and fed off it,” said Beebe.

The coach was also impressed with the strong and genuine relationships his players built with their billet families in Quebec.

“The kids and their billet families were balling their eyes out when we had to leave,” said Beebe. “The kids were asking if they could stay with their families an extra day before they left because they loved it so much.

“They were so well-mannered and well-received at their billet homes and that speaks volumes to the high level of character of all our kids and our families.”

And a group of kids who’ve helped – and safe bet will continue to help – raise Southern California’s youth hockey identity worldwide.

The 1999 birth year LA Selects, under the direction of now-Jr. Kings head coach Shawn Pitcher, celebrated the only other California title in the top division in 2012 (Pitcher also led the Jr. Kings’ 2004 AAA team to the championship game in 2017).

Two other Jr. Kings teams have taken home titles from Quebec, both in the International B division – in 1998 (a 1984 birth year team) and again in 2000 (1986 birth year).

“It’s so gratifying,” said Beebe, a Redondo Beach native who played for the Jr. Kings. “Being a California guy and growing up here and seeing how much hockey has grown – even from when I played – the respect that other teams had for us was never like that.

“We went there and people said, ‘L.A. OK, that’s one of the best teams in the tournament,’ and to win I know for a fact means so much to a lot of other players who grew up and started playing here in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“What a cool experience.”

— Brian McDonough

(April 11, 2019)