It probably didn’t feel like it at the time, but for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks Tier I 14-and-Under squad, losing a round-robin contest at the Pacific district tournament in Anchorage, Alaska, to their Southern California neighbors, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings, by a 9-5 score, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
That’s because, according to their coach, former NHLer Patrik Stefan, it prompted them to re-focus and dig in even harder once they got to the playoff round.
And when they faced off again against the unbeaten Jr. Kings in the final, they were perhaps more determined to reverse the outcome, overcoming their rivals 4-3 in overtime on March 10, to advance to the USA Hockey National Championships on April 3-7 in Pittsburgh.
“I think that it was actually a good thing that it happened because they were just cruising through the tournament and for us to get beat like that just fired up the boys even more,” Stefan said of the crushing round-robin defeat. “Then we went to the semifinal, played the Alaska All-Stars in a tough game, won a close game 3-2. In the championship game, we played a solid game, we go into overtime, a pretty even game, and when you get to overtime, you just never know, and then you pull it off. We just found a way to win the tournament.”
Stefan also points out that the Jr. Kings never faced any adversity in the tournament, winning the three games they played against other opponents by a combined score of 23-0, including a semifinal blowout of 10-0 over the Wenatchee Jr. Wild. But the Jr. Ducks were a battle-tested group.
“Yes, we got beat by the Kings in the round robin and that ended up helping us,” Stefan reiterated. “They were undefeated throughout the whole tournament and were feeling very good about themselves, and sometimes that’s not the team that wins.”
As the Jr. Ducks look ahead to nationals, Stefan believes his team can stack up against any around the country and that the difficult road they’ve already traveled will end up benefiting them again when they inevitably get into another tough battle in Pittsburgh.
“I look at it like we went to some tough and very competitive tournaments throughout the year,” said Stefan, who was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers with the number one pick in the 1999 draft before going on to play seven NHL seasons. “We went to Vancouver, played some top teams there, we went to Dallas, went to Chicago. We played maybe not the best, but we played lots of top teams throughout the year, and we played them tight and hard and that’s what you should be expecting in the nationals.
“If you look at us in the states and in the districts, we played lots of close games, lots of very important games, which I think helps to prepare us for the Nationals games. So for us, that’s maybe a little advantage that we’ve played so many tight games, and find a way, and that’s what sticks with us to go to Nationals.”
And while he’s very proud of his boys for what they’ve already accomplished, Stefan will not be satisfied just showing up in Pittsburgh. The Jr. Ducks are there to win.
“We don’t go just to be there, because I’m always pushing my boys to play harder and do better no matter what the circumstances are,” he said. “Going to nationals, I told them our goal is to reach the quarterfinals, because anything can happen from there. They are one-game series and anything can happen, so once you reach that quarterfinal, I think that we’ll be in good shape and I look at our group and it’s very doable.”
The Jr. Ducks begin their quest for a national championship on April 3 against the New England District representative.
As for Stefan, who is still just 32, he wanted to remain involved in hockey following his retirement as a player in 2007-08 due to an ongoing hip injury. So in addition to becoming a certified player’s agent, he settled in Southern California and began coaching with the Jr. Ducks four years ago.
“After I retired due to my injury, I wanted to stick around the game and still do something,” explained Stefan, who totaled 64 goals and 188 points in 455 NHL games for Atlanta and Dallas. “This is more of my hobby; I am also a certified agent, I work with several NHL players, and this is kind of my hobby because I enjoy coaching and giving something back to the kids.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.