Some players on the current Tier I 18U San Jose Jr. Sharks lost a district championship game three years ago while playing in another age group. And they hadn’t had great seasons the past two years, either. As player Owen Bohn said of this 2019-20 season, “We weren’t even supposed to make it out of state.”
Yet they did. They went to Tacoma, Washington, for the USA Hockey Pacific District Youth Tier I Tournament and won all three games in the round robin with a combined score of 19-8, then won the championship by beating Team Alaska 6-1.
“To win a district championship — no one in our group has ever done that,” coach Evan Alexius said. “And I thought it was a really remarkable time.”
Bohn scored two goals and had two assists in that game, and also had 13 points in the overall tournament.
“It was really cool,” Bohn said. “We weren’t the best team in all places so we worked really hard and coach Evan did a good job of connecting us. And after winning it was the best feeling.”
Added forward Niko Jovanovic: “Winning was awesome, it was incredible. It was everything we wanted it to be. Especially because we won all four games. Three years ago, we made it to the district final but we lost. After we won the first three games, we lost in the final.”
This time they won the championship final and left no doubt about it. The Sharks scored four of their six goals in the third period after leading by only 2-0 after the second period.
“To be honest, that was probably the best third period of hockey I’ve ever coached and I’ve ever seen,” Alexius said. “Not me coaching, but the boys’ execution on the ice was some of the best I’ve ever seen. We were like a well-oiled machine, doing the right thing, sticking to our system and our game.”
Alexius also praised Bohn’s performance.
“Owen was a really strong player for us this year,” he said. “Skillset-wise, he is probably our most complete player.”
Bohn wasn’t the only key Jr. Sharks player in the tournament. Other leaders included goalkeeper Antonio Tarantino and Jovanovic.
“It’s hard to shy away from goalkeeper Antonio Tarantino. Out of the four championship games we played, he played in every single one of them,” Alexius said. “And Niko Jovanovic was an absolute diesel for us. He just really poured it on late in the year. He was a big-time guy for us, too.”
The 18U team was not the only San Jose Jr. Sharks squad to make a district final. The 14U Jr. Sharks did too, falling to the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 5-1. The 15-Only Jr. Sharks also made the championship final but did not win, losing to the Anaheim Jr. Ducks.
Now home to NHL hockey for more than 25 years, there is no question that hockey in Northern California is thriving.
“I’m really lucky there is a hockey presence here,” said Jovanovic, who lived 15 years in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We totally could have moved somewhere where there wasn’t hockey. San Jose has the [NHL] Sharks and the Jr. Sharks. It’s got a bunch of good hockey which I’m really happy about.”
And the Jr. Sharks have done a good job of harnessing the talent in the Bay Area.
“From the 14U level to the 18U to be represented at district was a complement to our program,” Alexius said. “Honestly, the players deserve the most accolades. For us to show we’re building a competitive program, that we’re building competitive teams at each level, and developing hockey players to compete at high levels and represent ourselves is a pretty good complement to the club.”
Alexius took the job as the 18U coach last September even though he lives in Sacramento, a two-hour drive away from San Jose. “I’ve really enjoyed my time with San Jose,” he said. “It’s been great.”
“We had a really positive year,” Alexius said. “At the beginning of the year, I don’t think the expectation for us was to be very competitive. I think the history of the age group has proved that. Last year they really struggled and two years ago they really, really struggled. To a point where I think at the age level within the program it was unsure about the future of it.
“It was just a really crazy year.”
Jovanovic also enjoyed the tournament in Tacoma in addition to the victory.
“It was exciting to be here,” he said. “It felt more professional than other tournaments. We were treated more professionally as players and as a team.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.