A total of four Tier I teams from the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Lady Ducks are headed to the USA Hockey Nationals at various sites April 6-10.
The Jr. Ducks’ 16U and 18U teams will head to Pittsburgh after compelling victories at their respective Pacific District tournaments on March 9-12, while the Lady Ducks 14U and 16U teams will be off to Rochester/Macomb, Mich., after dominating district performances on March 2-5 at The Rinks – Anaheim.
The Jr. Ducks reached Nationals at 16U for the second time in three seasons, while the 18Us are going for the second season in a row.
“It’s important for our AAA to get to Nationals because it sets a standard,” said 16U co-coach Alex Kim, who is also the Jr. Ducks’ director of player development. “It’s a realistic goal that kids in our organization should have, to contend for a national championship.
“Rather than saying it, our 16s and 18s are doing it. They’re getting to a level where they can compete for titles.”
The 16s ran the table at districts in Las Vegas, edging the Everett (Wash.) Jr. Silvertips in the championship game, 3-2. The Jr. Ducks had earlier defeated the Alaska Oilers, 2-0, in the semifinals after outscoring foes 12-1 in round-robin play, including a 3-1 win over the rival LA Jr. Kings.
“It was a team effort,” Kim said. “Our scoring was well distributed. Everyone chipped in – every line, every player.
“Our defense has been putting up a lot of points, too. We had a balanced offensive attack.”
The 16s have shown resilience all season, not the least of which was in the District final, when they had to kill of nine penalties.
“Our kids stick together,” Kim added. “They’re a resilient group. They’ve found ways to beat good teams by overcoming big deficits all season.
“That victory over the Jr. Kings was the turning point for our team (at Districts). We knew we had to win that.”
In the process, the 16s achieved a preseason goal.
“I asked them before the season what their goal was, and they said Nationals,” said co-coach Craig Johnson, whose Santa Margarita Catholic High School team – a member of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League – is also headed to Nationals. “They worked hard for this. It’s gratifying to see it come together for the team.”
The 18s battled back from a 6-2 loss to the Jr. Kings in their first round-robin game to win three elimination games – including a 3-1 triumph over the Jr. Kings in the championship game – at Anchorage, Alaska.
“It was one of the goals we set as a team before the season, to make it to Nationals,” said August Aiken, who is in his first season as the 18U head coach. “I’m really happy with how the team came along after losing that first game to win three straight.”
Aiken cited several factors for the 18s’ success, including preparation, experience and leadership.
“The playoffs can wear you down physically and mentally,” he said. “Our leadership group has several guys who have gone to Nationals before, which helped. They sacrificed a lot, blocking shots, taking a hit to get a puck out of a zone, making a hit when it wasn’t comfortable.
“Paul Selleck, our captain, prepared the team well before games. He knows what it takes, and they listened to him. They looked up to Paul because he’s been to Nationals three other times. He and Brandon Bergado, Ryan Gill and Greg Lee did an excellent job preparing the team.
“Our chemistry has been unbelievable all year, and it’s a luxury to have such a deep team.”
The 18s also excelled in two other areas, their coach said.
“We have been able to rely on our goaltending (from Landon Pavlisin and Maxim Sidelnik) all season,” Aiken said. “Our goalies make key saves at crucial times.
“Our special teams have really stepped up – both power play and penalty kill – in the playoffs. It goes to show what happens when everyone plays for each other.”
The team’s return to Nationals could have a far-ranging impact as the event always is heavily scouted by junior and college coaches.
“We are working to get those players the opportunity to move on to junior hockey,” Kim said.
Unlike past seasons, when some Lady Ducks teams didn’t face competition for Tier I Nationals berths, the LDs had to win their way in this time.
“The girls are excited about Michigan, and they have four weeks to prepare,” LDs Director of Coaches Kathy McGarrigle said. “For a couple of years there hasn’t been an opponent so we were champions by default. That’s not always the best way to prepare for Nationals. It’s nice to have someone to play and compete against.”
The 14U team swept the San Jose Jr. Sharks in a best-of-3 series by matching 3-0 scores. Emmerson Hayes had three goals on the weekend, and Elle Rutherford added two. Emily Evans and Brooke Marella each posted a shutout.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress,” said 14U coach and 16U assistant Laura Veharanta. “We played the Sharks over Thanksgiving weekend and tied 1-1. That shows the progress the girls made.
“We got contributions from all three lines. Everyone has started understanding their role in the system. Their general understanding from 12U to 14U has to get quicker, and things are starting to click for them now.
“Plus, a lot of girls are putting in time outside of practice to work on their skating and shooting. A lot of people bought in.”
The first-year LDs coach added the hard-fought series can only help her team at Nationals.
“The Sharks gave us a tough series, and it was good to gain some confidence going into Nationals, especially since we have a lot of girls who are going for the first time,” she said. “It gave them a good taste of how focused they need to be.”
Veharanta and first-year 16U coach Jennifer Friedman know all about that as both won multiple medals at Nationals with the Cal Selects before playing Division I hockey at Providence College.
“It’s a great opportunity to teach them things at a younger age,” Friedman said. “A lot of habits we’re trying to break are habits we didn’t break until college. I didn’t learn to angle someone off the puck properly until I was in college. Those fine details are what we’re able to bring to the table.”
The 16Us beat the Seattle Lady Admirals by a combined 10-0 in sweeping two games at Districts. Courtney Reyes had four goals and an assist, and Logan Arseneau, Marissa Gebauer and Lily Yovetich each added multi-point games.
“The team did a good job adjusting,” Friedman said. “Coaching styles vary no matter what level you’re at. We play a simple but effective style. We’re not looking for the pretty goals, but scrappy goals and generating a lot of pressure.
“Overall, the way they’re seeing the game has improved greatly.”
The LDs’ Tier II teams also took a big step forward this season, McGarrigle said.
“Our 14AA team made the finals, which is a huge step for us because Alaska doesn’t have Tier I teams right now,” she said. “So our AA teams are playing everyone’s top players.
“Our Tier II program has solidified. We have better goal scorers and better play makers. That’s a positive for us that our Tier II teams were so competitive.”
- Chris Bayee
Tag(s): Club News