SAN JOSE, Calif. — Northern California isn’t traditionally known for its abundance of youth hockey, but the NHL’s San Jose Sharks run a junior program that is quickly changing that notion.
As the host team of the girls’ divisions for the USA Hockey National Championships, what is the No. 1 priority for coach David Peterson and his Tier II 14-and-Under San Jose Jr. Sharks?
Setting a good example of sportsmanship.
“They’re coming to our rink, a lot of these girls from Minnesota or Michigan,” said Peterson, who began skating 10 years ago at age 40. “We try to show them a good time and that hockey is hockey and everybody belongs.”
While most of the teams in the tournament are comprised of 14-year-old girls, the Jr. Sharks are an anomaly.
“Everybody is 11 or 12, we have only one 14-year-old,” said Peterson. “They’re second-year 12s — the first line from my 10U team.”
The 14U team was put together last year and had to gel quickly, an opportunity that came while on a tournament in Riverside, Calif., though the results on the ice weren’t what they were looking for.
“We were pretty competitive, but we lost every single game,” Peterson said. “We had some practice time with the house team and then at the MLK [tournament], we went 2-0-2. The girls were progressing, but we’re still really young.
“Now at nationals, you can really tell see the difference between the 14-year-old girls playing who have played together a long time versus our 11- and 12-year-old girls who are getting pushed around. But their hearts are in it.”
On Thursday, the Jr. Sharks matched-up with the Nashua (N.H.) Panthers in their second game of the tournament. However, the Jr. Sharks fell 8-1.
Though the Jr. Sharks were outplayed and outmuscled, the team let up just one goal in the third and Peterson believes it was a good learning experience.
“We let up some fluky goals,” Peterson said. “But they kept a positive attitude and strived to be better. They love to be with each other and no one called out each other, ‘You have to do this, you have to do that.’ They were all supportive of each other.”
Coaching a team so young and with such little experience brings many obstacles, but Peterson believes the style employed by his Jr. Sharks is effective.
“We try to play a puck-possession style, with our heads up, making passes, trying to keep control of the puck,” said Peterson, whose daughter Claire Peterson plays wing. “The biggest challenge is keeping the girls positive, making sure they don’t get discouraged and keeping their feet moving; we can skate, we just don’t have the size.”
The Jr. Sharks might be outmatched this year due to size and experience, but after the tournament, Peterson believes he could have a formidable team as the club grows together, anchored by “rink rat” goaltender Angela Hawthorne and first-line center Julliette Savoie.
“I just want them to continue their play from the third period [against Nashua],” he said. “Just play hard and have fun and maintain the positive [mentality] that we’ll get them next time.”
After the experience of playing in the USA Hockey National Championship tournament this year as youngsters, maybe the Jr. Sharks will “get them next time.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.