The Los Angeles Jr. Kings 16U team has faced adversity all season.
What they have to show for it is a hard-nosed group of players who compete as a collective unit. The kids produced on the ice and won the Pacific District championship. That qualifies the Kings for the Toyota-USA Hockey Youth Tier I National Championships at the end of the month up the coast in San Jose, California.
“I believe that the kids have pushed themselves and risen to the occasion when asked,” Jr. Kings coach Jack Bowkus said. “They seem to be a very tight-knit group. They’ve learned to compete for one another and understand the value of a team concept.
“A lot of kids have taken a backseat to the personal statistics and put the team in front of them, which is surprising at a young age when you’ve got a group of kids that could possibly win a scoring title. They’re not really focused on that, but on the team concept, and play both ends of the ice.”
The Jr. Kings (39-11) hosted the district tournament at the Toyota Sports Center on March 3-6 in El Segundo, California. The team got off to a fast start, beating the Everett (Washington) Jr. Silvertips 8-0 in the first round and downing the Fairbanks (Alaska) Arctic Lions 6-2 in the next game.
However, in their final game in the round-robin format, the Jr. Kings had an eye-opening experience.
“We came out possibly a little overconfident against a younger Ducks #2 team and ended up losing that game,” Bowkus said.
The 4-3 defeat dropped the Jr. Kings to a No. 2 seed in their division and they had to play the Anaheim Jr. Ducks #1 in the semifinals.
Two of the Jr. Kings’ top players, Jake McGrew and Jackson Wozniak, were hurt and didn’t return. McGrew was lost on the first shift of the game and Wozniak later on.
“I felt like the team just kind of rallied together,” Bowkus said.
The Jr. Kings advanced to the championship game against the Alaska Oilers. Both McGrew and Wozniak returned to action in the title game as the Jr. Kings were victorious 5-1.
The Jr. Kings tallied 25 goals in the five games and showed their offensive prowess.
“We’re an up-tempo-type team,” Bowkus said. “We have a strong puck possession type of team. We rely on playing a fast-paced type of hockey game.”
The team features a solid 1-2 offensive punch of McGrew and Cole Guttman. The forwards led the team in scoring all season. McGrew was a member of the Under-17 Select Team that helped the U.S. win the Five Nations Tournament last August.
Bowkus noted there was a time during the year when his offense was on fire, but there were other times when his team outshot its opponents and the Jr. Kings lost.
“We evened that out a little bit and we’re playing more of a defensive structure-minded game as far as, if things aren’t going well we can win some one-goal games, which we have taken some pride in as of late,” Bowkus said.
The Jr. Kings have a strong defensive core led by Jack St. Ivany and RPI verbal commit Jacob Modry.
The team lost its top goalie to injury late in 2015, and since they weren’t allowed to bring up another player, backup Jagger Denys was thrust into action. The 16-year-old has come up huge.
“He’s been holding the fort pretty much the whole season,” Bowkus said. “He’s been great.”
The Jr. Kings have a handful of players who competed at nationals at the 14U level, and Bowkus is banking on those guys to provide leadership to the younger players.
What’s the team’s goal at nationals?
“Just like everyone else,” said Bowkus, laughing.
Bowkus believes his guys have a terrific shot of winning it all. If his team can stay consistent, it will do well at nationals.
“As long as we stay healthy — we’ve had a lot of injuries this year with shoulders, concussions, knees, ankles and hips — and can go there with a good, solid base of four lines and six defenseman, we’ll do well,” Bowkus said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.