Hockey’s recruiting cycle hit some speed bumps in the past year, but it didn’t stop.
Several current and former Anaheim Jr. Ducks players are evidence of that.
Six current 16U and 18U players have signed tenders with junior teams already this season, and two more are on protected lists of Western Hockey League teams. And that number is expected to grow.
18U captain Jackson Ferry and goaltender Lucas Massie signed tenders with Blackfalds of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, while Chris Alexander signed a tender with Austin of the North American Hockey League.
“This has been a tough year for everyone,” 18U coach August Aiken said. “For those players, it shows their character and work ethic. They brought it to every practice, to every workout, to every video session. They got rewarded because they put in the hard work.”
16U teammates Ben and Jack Ivey and Brodrick Williams each signed with Wenatchee of the British Columbia Hockey League. Additionally, 16U goalie Nick Avakyan and defenseman Lukas McCloskey are on Tri-City’s protected list.
“This is a testament to their commitment to the game,” said 16U coach Alex Kim, who also serves as the club’s director of player personnel. “These players created opportunities for themselves because they worked with what was in front of them. They’re proof you don’t have to leave to get noticed. If you’re good they will find you.”
The players endured what has amounted to a season-long road trip, playing all of their games outside the confines of The Rinks’ network of facilities. Along the way, their teams dealt with short benches due to injuries, illness and various protocols.
“The travel hasn’t been too bad,” Aiken said. “We could space it out so we’d go once every three or four weeks.
“The biggest challenge was overcoming Covid. We went to two showcases with one goalie and 12 or 13 skaters. That was the toughest part to battle through. At the same time, the players learned to adapt, to take it day by day. That will help them going forward in the sport.”
In Tier 1 Elite Hockey League action, Ferry has 11 points through 12 games, while Alexander has three goals in 15. Massie has posted a 1.75 goals-against average and .902 save percentage.
The Iveys each have 13 points (including six goals) in 19 games, while Williams and McCloskey have been rocks on the blue line. Avakyan has 2.94 and .910 numbers to go with two shutouts.
“All of them stayed patient,” Kim added. “(Moving up) doesn’t just happen. You have to do extra work. You have to build good habits before you leave, and these players have done that.”
Several players with ties to the Jr. Ducks joined the current group in setting plans for the next steps of their hockey careers.
The latter cohort includes a trio of defensemen who made NCAA Division I college commitments – Colton Huard (New Hampshire), Hunter Sansbury (Sacred Heart) and Drake Usher (Air Force). That raises the number of D-I commitments by players with ties to the Jr. Ducks to 31 in the past seven seasons.
That trio are joined by defenseman Wyatt Wong and forward Sam Myers, who made Division III commitments to Neumann University and the University of New England, respectively.
All five are 2000 birth years who were in pivotal seasons for moving on to college.
“All of them are good kids,” Kim said. “This took longer for them than it did for some of their peers, but they were persistent, and they weren’t worried about what Player A or Player B was doing.
“They were in tough spots this season. When the BCHL shut down, Hunter didn’t get to play. Drake had to relocate to the NAHL in his last year of junior to play for Wichita Falls. That is a big adjustment.”
Usher had 17 points in 29 games through the end of March. Huard, meanwhile, had 20 points in 45 games for Chicago of the United States Hockey League. Sansbury was selected Salmon Arm’s captain, but the Silverbacks have yet to play a game.
Wong had 22 points through 41 games for New Jersey of USPHL Premier league, while Myers had 15 in 20 games for the Northern Cyclones of the NCDC.