LAKHSHL grads help UC Santa Barbara to PCHA championship
When players in the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League (LAKHSHL) graduate from high school, it doesn’t necessarily mean they also have to leave behind their days playing hockey.
In the case of the Santa Barbara Royals, four former players have continued their hockey careers playing on the ACHA team at UC Santa Barbara.
Former Royals on the Gauchos’ roster this season included forwards Collin Del Bonis and Chris Ewasiuk, defenseman Emmett Rupert and goalie Will Hahn.
Additionally, Demetri Strategos joined UCSB’s squad this season after playing for the Kern County Knights in the LAKHSHL.
“It has been amazing to have this many former Kings league players on our roster this season,” said Hahn, a freshman who helped lead the Royals to consecutive league titles in his two years with the team and was a two-time winner of the league’s Rogie Vachon Goalie Award. “It’s high-level hockey and we all work incredibly hard.”
The Gauchos had a memorable season, as they captured their first Pacific Collegiate Hockey Association championship, wrapping up the title in Lake Tahoe on Feb. 19. They topped Santa Clara University in a shootout.
Immediately after the title game, a handful of players sprinted from the rink to the shores of Lake Tahoe and enjoyed a celebratory leap into the frigid water – an experience they won’t soon forget.
“It was absolutely incredible winning the championship,” Hahn said. “I brought along my video camera and got some great footage of them jumping in the lake – it was a lot of fun.”
The fact that so many players have moved from the Kings’ high school league to UCSB isn’t lost on those running the league. Emma Tani, the Kings’ coordinator of league and rinks, Hockey Development, played college hockey at Trinity College in Connecticut, and said she’s pleased to see players from the LAKHSHL getting opportunities to continue playing the game they love.
“I am very proud that players from our league are finding success in college hockey,” Tani said.
Added Stratgeos: “I never thought I would play hockey again at a competitive level after high school, but once I found out UCSB had a team, I didn’t want to pass up that opportunity.”
While some of the players are content to skate for the Gauchos all four years in college, others are looking to advance their careers away from the California coast. Most of them, however, said they’re happy to be able to stay close to home while still playing hockey, and they have a personal investment in the success of the sport in the area, which to the surprise of many outsiders has become a hockey hotbed.
“I think it was great that we were all able to stay close to home and be able to continue playing competitive hockey,” Del Bonis said. “UCSB was our best opportunity with those two aspirations in mind.”
Rupert hopes to use his experience with UCSB’s team as a springboard to opportunities to play Division I college hockey on the east coast or in the ECHL or AHL. He said he is a big supporter of hockey in the Santa Barbara area and after his playing days, he’d like to contribute to the passionate hockey community in the area.
“Teaching the game that I have been playing for 16 years to kids would be amazing, knowing that I was able to contribute to their lives in a beneficial way,” Rupert said.
A big part of growing the game in Southern California will be dependent on the success of the LAKHSHL (as well as that of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League), and former players recognize how important it is.
“I want to see the league continue to grow and thrive,” Hahn said. “The more the sport grows, the more interest there will be and the more great hockey there will be in the area.”
— Greg Ball
(March 27, 2018)