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Ontario (Calif.) Avalanche Come Out On Top of California Trio

By John Tranchina - Special to, 03/16/15, 10:15PM MDT


First Tier I national tournament for most Ontario players.

The Ontario (Calif.) Avalanche 18U youth squad was fortunate to overcome a lackluster opening game en route to winning the Pacific District championship and earning their way to the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships at the end of the month.

One could also argue the Avalanche got a break when the host San Jose Jr. Sharks didn’t reach the final due to goal differential, allowing Ontario to instead play the title game against the SoCal Titans, a team they’d already beaten three consecutive times — once in the round-robin portion of the tournament and twice at the state tournament two weeks earlier.

The Avalanche rebounded from the opening game 4-2 loss to the Sharks by defeating the Seattle Jr. Admirals 7-0 and then the Titans 3-1.

The three California-based clubs wound up with identical 2-1-0 records through the round robin, leaving the two spots in the final to be decided on goal differential in games between them. That put Ontario in the final against the Titans, and shut out the home Jr. Sharks, who had the best goal differential overall because of a dominating 13-0 win over winless Seattle.

“We basically had the same situation as we did at states — we had to beat the Titans two games in a row to advance, and we did just that,” Avalanche coach Rob O’Rourke said. “The Titans are a good hockey team. I knew we were basically having to beat them four times in a row, and it’s hard to beat any team four times in a row, so that was my biggest concern that last game.”

The Avalanche were led offensively by center Coby Downs, who was outstanding throughout the tournament, leading the way with a whopping 11 goals and 14 points in just four games.

And Leks Zendejas sparkled in goal, entering the crease after Ontario had fallen behind 4-0 in the second period of that first game and allowing just one goal on 89 shots through the rest of the tournament, for a stellar 0.25 goals-against average and a .989 save percentage.

“Obviously, Coby Downs on our team set the pace for everybody,” O’Rourke said. “He and Manny Mancha [who had seven assists] really worked well together; he helped the set the table for Coby quite a bit. Coby is just playing phenomenal right now.

“The first game, I had Blake Rayfield-Recktenwald in the net. I pulled him halfway through and put Leks Zendejas in, and Leks only allowed one goal the rest of the tournament. Leks played very good the last two games and played good the whole tournament. He was definitely a big part of this win.”

In the final, Ontario’s two stars were front and center. Downs scored three goals and had an assist while Zendejas made 37 saves as the Avalanche blanked the Titans 4-0 and won the district. They will now play in the national championships March 26-30 in Amherst, N.Y.

“It’s a huge deal. I think the majority of my team has never been there,” O’Rourke said. “I know some of them have been to the nationals at the Tier II level, but I think only one or two has been to the Tier I nationals in their careers. So it’s a pretty big deal for them. I haven’t been to nationals myself since ’07. I coached the LA Selects; we won the nationals in ’06, and I think we lost in the quarters in ’07.”

The memory of opening loss to the Sharks will serve as a lesson for the Avalanche when they arrive in Amherst for the national tournament. In fact, in trying to guard against a soft first game, O’Rourke indicated that the squad would be flying out a day early just to get better adjusted to the time zone difference.

“I am concerned about the time change, so we’re all flying in on Tuesday, and the tournament doesn’t start until Thursday,” O’Rourke reported. “And we’re having practice Wednesday morning, because I want them to get up and acclimate to the East Coast time. It’s very difficult to play well in the first game if you don’t allow yourself that time to acclimate.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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