Three-mendous! 14U, 16U, 18U teams reach Tier I Nationals
A club-record three Tier I Anaheim Jr. Ducks teams qualified for the USA Hockey Youth Nationals on Sunday.
The Bantam, Midget 16U and Midget 18U teams each won a Pacific District championship to move on. In five seasons of AAA hockey, the Jr. Ducks have sent 10 teams to the Tier I Nationals.
“When you start the season, the goal is to get to Nationals,” said Craig Johnson, the club’s director of coaches. “To have three is a testament to the players, the coaches and the parents for all of their sacrifices.
“Now they get to compete against the best.”
The Bantams and 18Us won their titles in Las Vegas, and each team went undefeated. The 16Us defeated the rival LA Jr. Kings in an elimination game before going on to win the first Jr. Ducks District title at the new Great Park ICE facility in Irvine.
Tier I Nationals will be held April 3-8 at various sites. The Bantams will travel to Pittsburgh, while the 16Us and 18Us will play at Grand Rapids, Mich.
In addition, the Lady Ducks will play host to the girls Tier I Nationals at Great Park ICE and the Women’s Senior Nationals at Anaheim ICE. As hosts, the Lady Ducks’ 14U, 16U and 19U teams will compete in Irvine and its Women’s C team will play at Anaheim.
Two more Tier II teams from the Jr. Ducks – 16U and 18U – would qualify for Nationals as well if they can win CAHA State championships this weekend in Escondido.
Here is a closer look at each of the Jr. Ducks’ champions this past weekend:
The Bantams went 5-0 and outscored their opponents by a combined 48-5 in the process. However, the Jr. Kings twice pushed them to the limit.
After defeating Wenatchee (Wash.) 13-0 and Alaska 15-1, coach David Walker’s team found itself in a battle with the Jr. Kings, ultimately winning 2-1.
“Those are always tough, close-checking games,” he said. “We carried a majority of the play but we needed a goal late in the third period to win it.”
From there, the Jr. Ducks routed Seattle 13-0 in the semifinals before topping the Jr. Kings again, 5-3, for the title.
“We led 5-1 but they got a couple in the third,” Walker said. “We knew the longer we let them hang around they’d have a chance.”
This marks Walker’s first trip to Nationals as a head coach, and it comes on the heels of his team rolling through the CAHA regular-season and playoff schedules. He said his group has maintained a remarkable focus for a 14U team.
“We have a team with a lot of players with high-end skills, so that piques scouts’ interest,” Walker said. “As coaches our main job was to keep them focused and not let outside distractions take over.
“We talked back in September about how this is a process, and if they follow that every day, the results would be there.
“I give them a lot of credit. They could have not paid attention, but they did a good job staying focused.”
Team members include: goaltenders Aidan Comeau and Alex Koenig and skaters Hudson Blue, Russell Bustamante, Brandon Grant, Jungwook Hong, Elijiah Hull, Kyle Isenberg, Ben Ivey, Jacob Ivey, Austin Kluksdahl, Michael Patko, Tomer Ramot, Oaken Son, Merril Steenari and Jason Stefanek.
After an uneven regular season, the 16U team is hitting its stride in March.
“Our group is playing good hockey at the right time,” said coach Alex Kim, who also is the club’s director of player personnel. “We had a full effort from the players, coaches and parents. It’s great to see these kids get rewarded.
“Their level of readiness was impressive.”
The 16s started with a 7-1 victory against Everett (Wash.) before losing to Alaska 5-4 in overtime. That set up a win-or-go-home game against the Jr. Kings, which the Jr. Ducks won 2-1 on goals by Brendan Williams and defenseman Kobe Pane.
The Jr. Ducks then gained revenge on Alaska with a 2-1 victory for the championship in a game that saw Williams score both of their goals.
“It was very emotional after beating the Kings,” Kim said. “But the boys raised their intensity and level of play on Sunday (in the final). They did a great job.”
Kim was quick to credit Johnson, 15U coach Darryl Tiveron and assistant Matt Cunningham for their help.
“Darryl played a big role in preparing these players the year before, making their transition easier,” Kim said. “He deserves a lot of credit because he helped whenever his team wasn’t playing. Having Craig there was a big help, too, because he has such a good eye for details.
“It was a full staff effort – and a full player effort – to get to this point.”
The 16s allowed just eight goals in their four games, and Kim said the play of both goalies – Owen Milward and Aidan Hanson – was outstanding.
“We were really good in net, and really good on the penalty kill, especially in the final two games,” the coach added.
Other team members include: Tyler Badame, Clay Bozanich, Caleb Cordas, Jackson Ferry, Logan Gallaher, Bryan Gilman, Nathan Gines, Emerson Goode, Tyler Green, Nolan Lazar, Joshua Lee, Braden Mayer, Alexander Murkanos, Derek Pethel, Christopher Root and Robert Zammetti.
This marked the fourth time in five seasons that Kim has directed a team to the Tier I Nationals. Last year’s squad captured a bronze medal, the first medal in the club’s AAA history.
Small in stature, the 18Us proved large in heart – and chemistry – in winning their District title.
“This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever been around,” said coach August Aiken, who has directed a team to Nationals each of the past three seasons. “Everyone hangs out together and truly enjoys each other’s company.”
It’s also an experienced group. Fourteen of the players on the roster have participated in Nationals, and that offers a big advantage, Aiken said.
“This team is hungry to make a run this year,” he said.
Fresh off CAHA regular-season and State titles, the 18Us defeated the Portland Jr. Winterhawks 8-2 before running into a tough Wenatchee (Wash.) team.
“They scored the first two goals on us, and that woke everyone up,” Aiken said. “We then scored eight straight goals.”
After that 8-3 victory, the 18Us beat the Ontario Jr. Reign, 9-1, to set up a rematch against Wenatchee.
“They had our attention the second time around and everyone focused. It was our most dominant game,” Aiken said of the 7-1.
Goaltending, as it has been all season, was at the forefront for the 18Us, who gave up just seven goals in the tournament.
“Ethan Lahmon and Tyler Shea give us what I feel are two of the top goalies in the country at this age level,” Aiken said. “Both were at Nationals last year with the 16s, and they’ve been unbelievable all year.
“Some of these games weren’t as easy as the scores might indicate, but our entire team played well. Everyone brought their A games – every line was clicking, every D pair was clicking.
“Everyone bought in, and some players who hadn’t contributed a lot offensively got involved. We’re a smaller, skilled, speedy team, and we’ve had glimpses, but it was nice to see four games where we got better as they went along.”
In addition to the goalies, team members include: Ethan Alexandrovich, Benjamin Biester, Dalton Garcia, Ryan Green, Dylan Guitierrez, Patrick Harrington, Erik Hultenius, John Klus, Kyan Lakin, Spencer Light, Lyusyen Loshak, Timothy Marchant, Jerrett Overland, Victor Ouellet Mascotte, Thomas Sherman, Jordan Skahill, Tyler Shetland and Daniel Ton-That.