Jr. Ducks teams capture trio of Tier I Pacific District titles
Even by Anaheim Jr. Ducks’ standards, this was quite a successful weekend.
Three of the club’s Tier I boys teams – the Bantams, 16Us and 18Us – qualified for the USA Youth Hockey Nationals with triumphs at various Pacific District tournaments from March 7-10.
The three District titles are a high-water mark at Tier I for the club, and in five seasons of AAA hockey, the Jr. Ducks have sent 10 teams to the Tier I Nationals.
“When you start the season, the goal is to get to Nationals,” said Craig Johnson, the club’s director of coaches. “To have three is a testament to the players, the coaches and the parents for all of their sacrifices.
“Now, they get to compete against the best.”
The Bantams and 18Us won their titles in Las Vegas, and each team went undefeated. The 16Us defeated the rival LA Jr. Kings in an elimination game before going on to win the first Jr. Ducks District title at the new Great Park ICE facility in Irvine.
Tier I Nationals will be held April 3-8 at various sites. The Bantams will travel to Pittsburgh, while the 16Us (pictured) and 18Us will play in Grand Rapids, Mich.
In addition, the Lady Ducks will play host to the girls Tier I Nationals at Great Park ICE and the Women’s Senior Nationals at The Rinks-Anaheim ICE. As hosts, the Lady Ducks’ 14U, 16U and 19U teams will compete in Irvine and its Women’s C team will play in Anaheim.
The Bantams went 5-0 and outscored their opponents by a combined 48-5 in the process. However, the Jr. Kings twice pushed them to the limit.
After defeating Wenatchee 13-0 and Alaska 15-1, the team found itself in a battle with the Jr. Kings, ultimately winning 2-1.
“Those are always tough, close-checking games,” said coach David Walker, who is making his first trip to Nationals as a head coach. “We carried a majority of the play but we needed a goal late in the third period to win it.”
From there, the Jr. Ducks routed Seattle 13-0 in the semifinals before topping the Jr. Kings 5-3 for the title.
The 16s started with a 7-1 victory against Everett before losing to Alaska 5-4 in overtime. That set up a win-or-go-home game against the Jr. Kings, which the Jr. Ducks won 2-1 on goals by Brendan Williams and Kobe Pane.
The Jr. Ducks then gained revenge on Alaska with a 2-1 victory for the championship in a game that saw Williams score both.
“It was very emotional after beating the Kings,” said Alex Kim, who has guided this age group to Nationals four times in five years. “But the boys raised their intensity and level of play on Sunday (in the final). They did a great job.”
The 18Us won their four games by a combined 32-6.
“This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been around,” said coach August Aiken, who has directed a team to Nationals each of the past three seasons. “Everyone hangs out together and truly enjoys each other’s company.”
— Chris Bayee
(March 29, 2019)