Jr. Sharks fare well at states, districts, WHL U.S. Prospects Draft
Before the COVID-19 outbreak prematurely ended 2019-20 hockey seasons across the country, the San Jose Jr. Sharks found success, both on and off the ice.
On the ice in March, the Jr. Sharks’ 18U AAA team captured the CAHA state championship and then went on to Tacoma, Wash., to win the Pacific District title, while the Jr. Sharks’ 19U AA girls team, coached by Danielle Kozlowski, won a state championship to boot.
In Tacoma, the Jr. Sharks skated to three wins in the round robin, defeating the Wenatchee Wilderness, Portland Jr. Winterhawks and Team Alaska. San Jose toppled Alaska 6-1 in the championship final, giving up their only goal with seven seconds left in the game.
Owen Bohn, who saw time in the British Columbia Hockey League this season with the Wenatchee Wild, powered the offense with two goals and two assists, followed by Cade Herrera with two goals and an assist. Jake Meure chipped in with four assists and Niko Jovanovic, who later signed with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s (AJHL) Spruce Grove Saints for the 2020-21 season, and Ryan Kopelman each tallied a goal and an assist. Antonio Tarantino was solid between the pipes, turning aside 23 saves on 24 shots.
Joining the 18U AAA team, coached by Evan Alexius, at Pacific Districts were the 16U AAA, 15O AAA and 14U AAA teams.
Then on March 25, several Jr. Sharks players from their 14U AAA team (2005 birth year) were selected in the inaugural two-round Western Hockey League (WHL) U.S. Prospects Draft.
Each WHL team was given two picks and were only permitted to select players from in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
“We are both proud of and happy for the players who were recognized during the Western Hockey League Draft,” said Jr. Sharks director Curtis Brown. “It is great to see players from Northern California be able to find opportunities for success close to where they grew up and wear the hometown teal throughout their development process.”
With the second overall pick in the draft, the Tri-City Americans selected San Jose native and forward Shaun Rios. In 54 games this season, Rios tallied 72 points (43 goals, 29 assists).
“Shaun is an elite player who possesses exceptional speed and change of pace,” said Tri-City general manager Bob Tory. “He is highly skilled with a nose for the net and has a tremendous work ethic with a strong physical presence. Shaun is a clutch performer that plays his best when the game is on the line. He plays at a high tempo and is a game changer.”
“I was very excited to see that Tri-City had picked me at No. 2,” Rios added. “I am proud to be picked so high and I am thankful that Tri-City sees me as an elite player. I’ve heard many good things about Tri-City and met a couple good people that are a part of the organization.
“Playing in the WHL is a big step and is for sure a challenge. From what I know, it’s a great league and it would be great to play in the WHL.”
Defenseman Philippe Blais-Savoie, another San Jose native, was then chosen seventh overall by the Vancouver Giants. This past season, Blais-Savoie posted 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists).
“Philippe Blais-Savoie is an offensive-minded defenseman that plays like a fourth forward,” said Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta. “He can make plays happen off the rush.”
“I’m very excited,” added Blais-Savoie. “I’d been talking to them the past couple weeks and this is a great opportunity they’ve given me. Really thankful that they like my game. I try and model my game after Erik Karlsson, play that offensive game as a defenseman, carry the puck up the ice when I can and make the right play.”
In the second round, the Calgary Hitmen drafted El Dorado Hills blueliner Briggs Orr 34th overall. Orr recorded five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 54 games in 2019-20.
“Briggs is a feisty defender that takes command of his own end of the rink but can chip in offensively,” said Hitmen director of player personnel Dallas Thompson.
The Americans went back to the Jr. Sharks in the second round, taking forward Ben Picard, an Oakland native, with the 43rd overall pick. In 2019-20, Picard registered 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points.
“Ben is a power forward with tremendous and great skating ability,” Tory said.
Along with the four players that skated for the Jr. Sharks during the 2019-20 season, former Jr. Sharks forward Duncan Shin went in the second round (38th overall) to the Giants.
Shin played with the Shattuck-St. Mary’s 14U team this past season and potted 25 goals along with 40 assists for 65 points in 58 games for the Sabres.
“Duncan Shin has elite talent,” said Giants scouting director Daryl Anning. “His hockey IQ is exceptional. He’s a skilled player that plays a strong 200-foot game. He doesn’t back down from physicality and has put up some excellent numbers over the past few seasons.”
Any players not selected in the 2020 WHL U.S. Prospects Draft will remain eligible to be selected in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, which will be held on April 22, or listed by a WHL team at any time thereafter.
Prior to the draft, Jovanovic signed a letter of intent with the Saints to start his junior hockey career next season.
Spruce Grove finished the 2019-20 season with a 43-13-2 record, good for second in the AJHL North Division. Spruce Grove is one of the most solidified programs in the AJHL with a tradition of advancing players. This year, the Saints boasted eight NCAA Division I commitments.
The North Vancouver, B.C., native finished the season third in team and 20th in Tier 1 Elite Hockey League scoring with 11 goals and six assists for 17 points in 23 contests.
Spruce Grove head coach Bram Stephen is excited to get Jovanovic into the lineup next season.
“Niko plays an intelligent game and is a handful for defenders with his ability to use his speed to drive pucks north quickly,” Stephen said. “Due to his thirst for offense, he closes on defenders at a rapid pace, is tenacious on pucks, and uses his long reach and good stick to create plays and scoring opportunities. Niko will make an impact in our lineups pace of play and add to the offense. He is a late bloomer and we are really excited to have him on our team and see his growth as a Saint.”
“Ultimately, the Saints sat at the top of my list because of the organization’s values,” added Jovanovic. “Honesty, integrity, and above all, the great communication I’ve been able to develop between (Spruce Grove GM) Rob Sklaruk and Coach Bram are the key factors that landed me here.
“Between the commitment to player development that the Saints provide and the special presence they hold in the Spruce Grove community, there was no turning down the opportunity to become a Saint.”
Photo/Brett Wayne Photography
— Matt Mackinder
(June 17, 2020)