West Ranch High developing tight-knit chemistry
Young hockey players across the state had conditioned themselves to believe that their best chance to continue their playing careers was to make a move to the East Coast or Midwest.
Then, organizations like the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings stepped up to provide aspiring youth the opportunity to play for their school.
Many have been drawn into high school sports by the allure of playing beside their friends and the potential to earn a varsity letter.
One month into the inaugural season for West Ranch High School, Jackson Vercellono says it’s an honor and a privilege to wear his school’s colors.
Vercellono, a freshman, is an assistant captain for the Wildcats. His team was one of eight established as the Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League launched this season.
“It’s really cool being on the first group for West Ranch High School,” Vercellono said. “I think we’re all really stoked; we’re so excited to be able to finally get a letter in a sport that we want to play instead of having to go to another sport to get a letterman’s jacket.”
West Ranch is the only pure team – a roster composed of players from a single school – in the league. The Wildcats have a very young group. Senior captain Bailey Prouty is the lone upperclassman on the roster. He knows all eyes will be on him with the players looking towards the senior to lead.
“I think I just have to set the example because if I do something well, I believe they’ll follow me, but if I goof off, I think they’ll follow me in the direction, too,” he said. “I need to act my age with them.”
He’s already shown he’s ready to lead. A forward by trade, Prouty has converted to defense to fulfill his team’s needs. He says being a good skater has made the transition smooth.
Prouty, who played club hockey with the Valencia Flyers, ended up joining the West Ranch team after he missed tryouts for his 18U AA season. Things worked out, though, for Prouty, who convinced his cousin, Ethan Wolthers, to join the team, too.
Pure teams have the effect of feeling like family. Prouty says that while non-pure teams gain some advantages in recruiting, the bonds that are formed from seeing each other every day on campus can be equally beneficial.
“You don’t really get to choose, so you have to make the best of what they give you,” Prouty said when asked if he preferred the pure or non-pure team format. “(The league) gave us the bonding one, and it’s really working out great for us.
“It’s different because on our team, we only have kids that go to our school.”
West Ranch’s youth movement has Vercellono excited about what the team will be capable of by his senior year. That’s a scary thought, considering the Wildcats went 4-1 in their first five games this season.
“I’m really excited for that,” Vercellono said of the young core growing together. “Since we’re going to be able to play together for that long, we’re going to be able to build up really good chemistry.
“By junior and senior year, we’re going to be an unstoppable team because we’re going to be so close and we’re going to know how to play with each other.”
Wildcats coach Chris LeCornu says his team has impressed him with the level of maturity it’s shown from the start. That’s high praise for a team that has 11 freshmen and six sophomores on its 18-man roster.
“These kids are hungry,” he said. “They’re like sponges taking in everything we’re teaching them and applying it to the way they’re playing the game.
“That’s what’s been so reassuring – these kids are so motivated and want to grow as hockey players.”
– Andrew Turner