Santa Barbara Royals capture first LAKHSHL championship
March 19 was without a doubt a special day for the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League, as it crowned its first champion, handed out league awards and capped off a stellar inaugural season.
The Santa Barbara Royals skated to a 4-0 victory over the Kern County Knights in the league’s first championship game, contested at the Staples Center the afternoon before a Kings victory over the Boston Bruins later that night.
It was a fitting end to the league’s debut campaign, as the Royals had been its most dominant team all season and concluded with a bang.
“I am proud of how our players consistently came ready to play,” said Royals coach Steve Heinze, the former Kings forward and NHL standout. “With their success, long breaks between games, distractions of playing at Staples Center, there was ample opportunity to let down or get distracted or complacent, but this team never let down. They let up only one goal in the first period in 17 games – that is a sign of a focused, committed group.”
The Royals roster includes forwards Ben Essig, Chris Ewasiuk, Jared McMullen, Harrison Del Bonnis, Nicholas Poire, Annelle Mackintosh-Ratcliffe, Brett Knowles, Jacob Watkins and Collin Del Bonis; defensemen Jack Johnson, Emmett Rupert, Daniel Solomon, Ayden Klock and Ryan McMullen; and goalies William Hahn and Brady Rotondo.
The Royals won 16 of their 17 games, with their only loss coming in overtime just four games into the season. They recorded seven shutouts and held their opponents to two goals or less 14 times. Johnson led them in scoring with 46 points (33 goals, 13 assists), while Rotondo and Hahn split time in goal and allowed just 18 goals all season.
Johnson scored twice in the championship game, while Ewasiuk had a goal and an assist and Collin Del Bonnis scored once. Rotondo played 26 perfect minutes, and Hahn added 19 minutes.
League commissioner Jim Fox, also a TV analyst for the L.A. Kings who played nine seasons for the NHL club, said it was validating to see the success the league experienced in its first year.
“I was very proud of the work put in by the Kings’ hockey development department, led by Chris Crotty and Ilyse Wolfe,” he said. “The entire day was first-class all the way. The awards ceremony was handled like they would in the NHL, and the parents, coaches, managers and players all had a great experience. The way the award winners handled themselves in the remarks they gave in their acceptance speeches is a great sign that the league is in good hands.”
The league handed out a number of awards following the championship game. The Wayne Gretzky MVP award went to Johnson (from San Marcos High School) and Heinze was named the Darryl Sutter Coach of the Year. Other Royals honored were Hahn from Santa Barbara High (Rogie Vachon Goalie Award) and Ewasiuk of San Marcos High (Dave Taylor Sportsmanship Award).
Tristan Warr of the West Ranch Wildcats earned the Luc Robitaille Freshman of the Year Award and was the Marcel Dionne Scoring Leader. The Knights’ Paul Daley, from Liberty High, earned the Rob Blake Defenseman of the Year Award.
Next on the agenda is tryouts for the 2016-17 season. Students in grades 9-12 this September are eligible and tryouts will be held between May 7 and June 13. Specific dates and locations for each of the league’s 11 teams for next season are available at www.lakleague.com.
“The first season was an outstanding success,” Fox said. “We will grow, but we will analyze our first year, make adjustments where they need to be made and then move forward. We will have more teams next year and we especially hope to increase the number of our pure school teams. As with most organizations, ice-time is our biggest challenge, and we are working toward making sure we can expand as quickly as possible.”
— Greg Ball