When it was crunch time, the Los Angeles Jr. Kings 14U players were clutch.
With a flair for the dramatic, the Kings won three of their four games in the Pacific District Tournament by one goal. The final one-game margin came in overtime of the championship game on March 6 to send the Jr. Kings to the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships.
“It’s pretty rewarding for the kids,” Jr. Kings coach Shawn Pitcher said. “They’ve been working hard, so it’s nice.”
The Jr. Kings (24-22-6) surprised a few teams by winning districts, which was held at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, on March 3-6. Strong defense and timely scoring were key to the Jr. Kings moving on to the big stage.
“We were probably playing some of our better hockey that weekend, toward the end of the season,” Pitcher said.
The Jr. Kings downed the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 5-1 in the opening game of the round-robin style format. The team’s first four goals all came on the power play, two registered by Sahil Panwar. In the second contest the next day, the Jr. Kings tallied the game winner with under a minute left to beat the San Diego Jr. Gulls 1-0. The following day, the Jr. Kings scored with about 40 seconds remaining to break a 1-1 tie and beat the San Jose Jr. Sharks 2-1.
In the championship, the Jr. Kings got a rematch with their biggest rival, the Jr. Ducks. The game went into overtime and the Jr. Kings capitalized after a Jr. Ducks turnover.
“Quick pass in front of the net, it was a broken play,” Pitcher said. “It was almost a 2-on-0 situation and a pass across and a one-time shot.”
Panwar fed his first-line mate Caden Creasy for the winning score. Creasy tallied both his team’s goals in the 2-1 victory. Along with Hunter Campbell, the Jr. Kings’ top line had a fabulous tournament.
The Jr. Kings had some real battles during the year against the other California teams but came out victorious when it mattered.
“We had good games all season with San Diego and San Jose and with the Ducks,” Pitcher said. “We played the Ducks five times, and I think our record was 3-2.”
Emergency Goalie Helps Jr. Ducks win 18U title
Even with its top two goalies out of commission in the first game of the Pacific District Tournament, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 18U team found a way to win and qualify for nationals.
“It was a great weekend overall for the team,” Jr. Ducks coach Larry Barron said. “Like any champions, we had to face a lot of adversity, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of the boys for pulling through.”
One of the Jr. Ducks’ top goalies, Rob Ivy, was suspended for the first two games of districts for getting into a little tussle after getting plowed over in the net during states. On Monday, Feb. 29, three days before districts got under way, Barron’s other goalie, AJ Frosh, got sick and was hospitalized.
“With all that happening, obviously, I’m panicking a little bit. ‘What do we do?’” Barron said. “I had to get an emergency goalie. ... Talking to the team and rallying with that distraction, we came out of the gate and won 5-1.”
The emergency goalie, Dylan Gluck, played strong between the pipes, allowing just one goal to the Jr. Kings.
Frosh still wanted to help his team, especially knowing Ivy was still out the next day, so he worked to get back on the ice.
“He attempted to get on the ice on Wednesday for 30 minutes and just started the process of recovery,” Barron said. “He was not 100 percent, and the kid lost 10 pounds through all this. Thursday he went back on the ice for a half hour and felt pretty good but was very fatigued. I had a good discussion with him, ‘Tell me what you want to do.’”
Frosh got the green light to play the California Titans on Friday, March 4. The Jr. Ducks were up 2-1 when they added an empty-net score to secure the two-goal victory.
“The boys rallied around him, they really did,” Barron said.
Ivy was in goal in the third game and the Jr. Ducks had their lone hiccup of the tournament, falling 3-1 to the California Wave 1. It was the Jr. Ducks’ first loss to a California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) in 22 games.
With a three-way tie to get into the finals, the Jr. Ducks won a tiebreaker and had a rematch with Wave 1. This time around the Jr. Ducks came to play and scored a 4-0 victory with Frosh in net.
“We played well as a team,” Barron said. “Everybody did what they needed to do — you had your unsung heroes, we had secondary scoring. I cannot be more proud of how these guys really focused on the result of what they wanted.”
Making the District Stronger
There will be a big shakeup next season for the Pacific District Tier I teams. According to Pacific District Director Kris Knauss, California will be reducing the amount of Tier I teams to five at each age level.
“That’s a big deal for our district because some of these divisions you have eight or 10 Tier I programs,” Knauss said.
Through an application process, programs lobbied to stay active and the CAHA board made recommendations on which programs would remain.
The Pacific District is the third-fastest growing district in the country, and California is the third-fastest growing state for hockey players, noted Knauss.
“Our youth programs are really taking off,” Knauss said. “The NHL, the AHL presence now have really helped grow the game.”
Knauss believes having fewer teams at the Tier I level is advantageous and will help California become better at the youth level.
“It’s a good move because it’s controlling the number of Tier I programs you have,” Knauss said. “I think it’s a similar model to what Illinois has done with their four Tier I programs.
“Based on the direction USA Hockey wants to go, the Tier I Open and making the Tier I programs more competitive and setting the standards for Tier I, I think it’s beneficial to hockey in the district in California.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Youth Tier I
14U: Los Angeles Jr. Kings
16U: Los Angeles Jr. Kings
18U: Anaheim Jr. Ducks