The Anaheim Jr. Ducks played a huge role in the West Selects winning the American Division at the prestigious North American Hockey Showcase in Bloomington, Minn., earlier this month.
Thirteen of the 11U squad’s 17 players were Jr. Ducks, and the 2006 birth year group was led by longtime Jr. Ducks coach Eugene Kabanets. The other four West players were from California as well, even though the region represented 16 Western states.
“The Show” as it’s also known, brings together 16 of the top regional teams in the United States and Canada. Kabanets’ West team won seven of 10 games, including the American Division championship with a 6-5 overtime victory over Great Plains, avenging an earlier loss.
“We always come to these tournaments to learn. As you play against tough competition, you improve,” Kabanets said. “There is no substitute for the experience of playing in this type of competition.
“This benefits all of the players.”
The West Selects outscored foes by an average of 2.6 goals per game and concluded the tournament with a game against Canadian division winner Ontario. Canada scored twice in the final 31 seconds to win 6-5.
“That was another good experience for us,” Kabanets said. “It showed us we can play with anyone. We controlled most of the game, outshot them and outplayed them.”
The Jr. Ducks on the West team included goalies Harry Avrith and Sam Straff; defensemen Liam McGuern, Kai Mencel, Andrew O’Sullivan and Brendan Vincent; and forwards Egor Barabanov, Oliver Clarke, Trevor Connelly, Colin Frank, Logan Mazzella, Chase Stefanek and Aidan Yi.
Several players finished among the tournament’s statistical leaders. Connelly had 17 points (nine goals), Barabanov (who had a hat trick against Ontario) and Yi had 15 points and nine goals apiece, and Stefanek had 11 points. Several more made the tournament’s all-star team.
The strong showing by the West contingent drew the attention of several opposing coaches.
“We always like to learn what other successful programs are doing, but now people want to know what we’re doing,” Kabanets said.
He believes there are several factors for the success Jr. Ducks teams are having on the ice and in advancing players to the next levels of hockey.
“It’s the culture the Jr. Ducks have, the focus on training and development,” he said. “Craig Johnson and Alex Kim have set the tone for that.
“The kids are staying together and developing together, and the coaches are working together. It’s from the top levels of the club to the younger ones. And the future is bright, you see that with all of these birth years now.
“We have great chemistry in the club.”
And that was on display in the State of Hockey for all of North America to see this summer.
- Chris Bayee