Santa Barbara Royals taking teamwork to new levels during ’18-19 season
The team won back-to-back championships in the first two years of the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League’s existence, adding a junior varsity championship the second year for good measure. They’re off to a stellar start this season as well, having entered mid-January with a 7-2-0-1 record that put them second in the league standings.
The program, however, is not singularly focused on winning championships. To the contrary, the coaches, administrators and parents who call themselves part of the Royals family have made extra efforts to help the players develop not only on the ice but as young men who are preparing for life as adults.
Going above and beyond to help the student-athletes get the most of out of their high school hockey experience, they have planned several team-building exercises and twice-monthly parent meetings, have designed a charitable giving program that directly correlates to what they do on the ice and even are producing a “hockumentary” film that will go behind the scenes and show viewers what it’s like to be part of such a successful program.
“We’ve always felt that youth sports are more than about learning how to play a sport and winning games,” said Greg Whicker, the team’s manager who also has a son playing for the Royals. “It’s all about the life lessons that they get out of the experience. One of the keys is learning how to win or lose with dignity. As these kids move on in life and start getting jobs, the lessons they have learned about teamwork will prove to be very important.
“We have a chance to mentor kids, bring them along and mold them into good human beings. Our goals are to have them be winners on the ice and off the ice as well.”
The Royals’ roster for the 2018-19 season includes forwards Shea Rousseau, Harrison Del Bonis, Tyler Martindale, Cameron Whicker, Cody Turner, Cole Schroder, Cameron Stone, Luke Griswell, Andrew Salentine, and Peter Frisell; defensemen Jack Lawrence, Dylan Diebold, Amistad Hernandez and Ian Cope; and goalie Henry Bleasdale.
Team-building exercises that the group has taken on so far this season have included indoor rock climbing, paintball, a beach cleanup, and landscaping at a local train depot museum. The events give players a chance to get to know each other better off the ice and outside the classroom, which has ultimately led to better chemistry on the ice. The outings are a great way to build camaraderie, and they’ve helped in many intangible ways already.
“It’s a win-win-win all around,” said Steve Heinze, the former NHL standout who now coaches the Royals. “The kids are helping the community, but they’re also helping themselves grow.
“I hope every one of my players makes it to the NHL, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. There’s so much more to life than hockey, and the onus on us has always been teaching the kids life lessons and showing them how to work as a team, set goals and try to achieve them.”
The parent meetings typically occur once every two weeks and are very informal in nature. Parents who can make it will gather at a local restaurant or brewery for some social time together away from the rink. They’re able to build relationships with other parents while also talking about hockey and the challenges of raising high-school aged kids with like-minded adults.
“Not only are these fun social outings, but we have found them to be a great way to develop a more collaborative support group as well,” Whicker said.
Knowing that it’s important to emphasize the value of charitable work and giving to those less fortunate, the team has also embarked on a program called “Hockey Assists” that will help local organizations with the support of donors and the success of the players on the ice.
“We’re using a tried-and-true method to raise money for charity,” Whicker explained. “The players ask friends and family to sponsor the team for every assist it records throughout the season, and we will donate the proceeds to an organization that is near and dear to our hearts.”
Whicker said that last season, the team recorded 92 assists, and he did some simple math to estimate the potential financial impact for local charities.
“If someone last season had agreed to donate 50 cents per assist, at the end of the year they would have contributed $46,” he said. “This year, if each member of the team could get 10 people to pledge this amount, it would result in $460 raised for each player. If 15 players were to do this, it would generate a total of $6,900 for the whole team – not bad for simply sharing the puck and making plays.”
Added Heinze: “Greg has done a terrific job with this program, and the fact that we’re able to do it really speaks to the wonderful community we have here and the involvement of the parents.”
Perhaps the most fun and unique activity that the Royals are participating in this year is the “hockumentary” that they have been filming all season. Former Royals goalie Will Hahn is an assistant coach with this year’s team and is also studying film at Santa Barbara City College. He proposed the idea of filming a documentary similar to the HBO “24/7” series on the NHL’s Winter Classic and other big sporting events, and the Royals jumped at the chance to be part of the project.
Hahn and a team of fellow student videographers have been filming the team during practices, games and off-ice activities, and aims to use the best and most intriguing pieces to put together the film sometime after the season. It’s an ambitious project, but one that could give parents and others who follow the team closely a great look at the inner workings of the team.
“I can’t wait to see the final product,” Heinze said, adding with a laugh that he got heated talking to his team between periods during one game, and had to ask the crew to turn off their cameras. “They’re at every game and trying to produce a really great product – Will is a great kid, and I’m sure he’ll pull it off.
“Will is trying to make it something special and something he can hang his hat on. He has a tremendous worth ethic, and I’m sure it will turn out great. At the very least, these kids will have something that will help them remember the season.”
Heinze said he’s proud of how his program has performed on the ice, but even more pleased with the many great things the players and their families are doing away from the rink.
“We’ve had some success in the Kings league, and the opportunity for a lot of kids to play in the high school league has been really special and helped build a sense of community,” said Heinze. “These kids and their families are committed to the Royals. We’re trying to do everything we can to give back.”
Photos/Greg Whicker/Will Hahn Productions
— Greg Ball
(Feb. 11, 2019)