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Santa Margarita Eagles Soar to Success

By Jim Smith, 04/01/17, 3:00PM MDT


Orange County high school program back for shot at another national title

As participation in California high school hockey continues to increase, the Santa Margarita Catholic High School Eagles, one of the state’s earliest organized teams, are soaring to impressive levels of success.

“We started about 10 years ago and we had a combination program. In 2012 was the first year we were Pure [Division] and in 2013 we had a great team,” stated Eagles head coach Craig Johnson.     

In fact, that 2013 squad won the USA Hockey High School National Championship.

“[The 2013 season] was a great run and we went through undefeated. We beat Regis [Jesuit High School] in overtime down in Florida. It was a great accomplishment for the players and the school,” added Johnson, a former NHL forward and 1994 United States Olympian.

The Eagles returned in 2015 to the USA Hockey High School National Championships in the newly formed Pure division, finishing second as Regis Jesuit avenged its 2013 loss.

“In 2015, we were a little bit of an underdog, I didn’t think we were going to be that great coming in, but we got great goaltending and our power play was clicking real well,” said Johnson. “I thought we played a real good game in the finals and we just ended up a goal short.” 

“Through the years we have been able to build up a tradition in California,” Johnson said when discussing the growth of the Santa Margarita program and high school hockey in the Golden State."

“California high school hockey started with two teams and now we’re at 40-some teams. This Pure team gets kids to share high school activities together and it is a great experience for them. It provides them the opportunity to bond not only with their teammates but with classmates as well.”

Johnson, a Minnesota native, appreciates being a part of the sport’s growth in his adopted state of California.

“It’s neat to be a part of it and the Anaheim Ducks have done a great job in growing the sport,” said Johnson. “You’re exposing kids to something that, a few years ago, would not have been possible.”

Participation in the 2017 Nationals brings some expectations on and off the ice for the Eagles.

“We always try to emphasize that there is some business to this tournament. These kids set goals at the start of the year and the chance to accomplish them is a great motivator,” explained Johnson. “We want to make sure the players are prepared to play the best they can. We try to set our expectations as one game at a time and one shift at a time. We just want to make sure the kids are representing the school and themselves in the proper way.”

Senior forward Jonathan Skule has not only team tradition but also family tradition in mind while at the tournament.

“My brother was on the team when they won Nationals, so now it’s my goal to try and match him. We want to win Nationals and take it back to California again. I want to have one more experience with my team. We built a really good family and I really want to go out on a high note. I love the players and the kids. A winning experience would be great.”

Skule’s teammate, defenseman Gregory Bennett, has expectations of his own.

“I think we have a very good chance. We’ve worked for it all year and we have been working really hard every practice. We want to come together as a family. I have known some of these kids since I was a 10U player.”

Reminded that the Eagles have had their share of Nationals success of late in odd-numbered years, and perhaps 2017 will follow that trend, Johnson simply replied, “we hope so.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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2017 USA Hockey National Championship Sites

Division Location Host Dates
Youth Tier I (14U) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only) Scottsdale, Arizona Arizona Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier I (16U, 18U) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Penguins Elite April 6-10, 2017
Girls Tier I Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Women's A, B, C Rochester/Macomb, Michigan HoneyBaked Hockey Club April 6-9, 2017
High School Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland Suburban Hockey March 22-26, 2017
Girls Tier II Troy, Michigan Troy Youth Hockey Association April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (14U) Coral Springs, Florida Florida Panthers Ice Den April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (16U) Frisco, Texas Texas Amateur Hockey April 6-10, 2017
Youth Tier II (18U) Lansing, Michigan Lansing Hockey Club April 6-10, 2017
Sled San Jose, California Sharks Ice April 6-9, 2017
Adult Rec Men's Wesley Chapel, Florida Florida Hospital Center Ice April 20-23, 2017
Adult Rec Women's Ellenton, Florida Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex April 27-30, 2017