The Jr. Ducks Midget 16U AAA team has moved into some uncharted territory this season, but the squad realizes its journey is just beginning.
That journey could culminate in a trip to the USA Hockey Youth Nationals in Philadelphia in early April. There’s a lot of hockey to be played between now and than, but the case for the 16s enjoying an extended postseason run is compelling.
· In the program’s third season in the prestigious Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, the 16s finished first overall in the Midget Minor Division with 89 points, 17 more than the second-place teams, thanks to a 30-1-1 record. In the process, they scored 171 goals and allowed just 31 in the most competitive AAA league in the United States. By comparison, the Jr. Ducks finished last season with the eighth-most points and tied for the fourth-most points in 2015-16.
· The 16s also ran the table in 12 CAHA games, finishing 13 points ahead of their closest competitors. As strong as 12-0 is in CAHA play, accomplishing that with a 97-7 overall goal differential adds weight to the achievement. Fourteen skaters had double figures in points in 12 games or fewer.
· With just one regulation loss (to the St. Louis AAA Blues) and two others coming in a shootout (Chicago Mission) and overtime (Colorado Thunderbirds) in nearly 50 games, the Jr. Ducks have sat at or near the top of the 16U Tier 1 rankings by myhockeyrankings.com for most of the season.
Still, championships aren’t won in rankings or with regular-season records, so to that end, the Jr. Ducks 16s have their work cut out for them in the next two months, maybe longer.
First up is the CAHA State Tournament on Feb. 2-4 at The Rinks – Lakewood Ice. Should they advance out of that, it’s on to Pacific Districts, which are in San Jose on March 8-11.
In between, the Tier 1 Elite League playoffs will take place in Blaine, Minn., on Feb. 15-19.
“These kids have worked hard and they deserve the success they’re having,” 16U AAA co-coach Alex Kim said. “They have excellent attention to detail and they’re creating good habits.”
Beyond their work habits, the group has demonstrated excellent chemistry, and that also has played a role in their regular-season records.
“We’ve got a really good group of kids,” Kim said. “They all get along and are supportive of each other. There’s a lot of cohesion on and off the ice, and that’s a big part of having success.”
About a third of the team has played together for all or nearly all of their youth hockey careers for co-coach Craig Johnson and assistant coach Scott Niedermayer. That familiarity has also helped, as has the players’ desire to grow and be pushed.
“This is a group that is very easy to coach,” Johnson said. “They come to the rink every time willing to listen, willing to work and willing to get better. They’re getting rewarded for what they’re doing every day.
“Everyone one wants to be a better player.”
Several team members have had notable seasons thus far.
Forward Josh Groll, who became the 12th player with ties to the club to make a Division I college commitment in the past four years when he selected Michigan last fall, led the Tier 1 league in goals with 26 and was second in points with 49 in 29 games. His 24 points and 12 goals were both second in CAHA.
Defenseman Ryan Johnson finished second in the Tier 1 league in assists (31) and had 43 points in 31 games. He added 15 points in nine CAHA games.
Forward Jackson Niedermayer was third in the Tier 1 league in goals with 23 among his 42 points in 32 games. He also lead CAHA with 26 points and 20 goals.
Forwards Joseph Harguindeguy (34 points, 19 goals) and Thomas Cody Sherman (32 points, 12 goals) also have averaged a point or more per game in the Tier 1 league. Sherman added 23 points and six goals in CAHA play, while Harguindeguy put up 17 more points and seven goals.
Forward Jonathan Panisa tied Sherman for third in scoring in CAHA with 23 points, and forward Ethan Wolthers chipped in 21 points, the fifth most in the league.
And forward Garrett Wright has seven game-winning goals among his 13 tallies and 23 points in Tier 1 play.
The goaltending also has been very strong thanks to the tag team of Ethan Lahmon and Tyler Shea, who have the best numbers in the Tier 1 league and CAHA.
Lahmon went 16-0 with a .958 save percentage and 0.72 goals-against average and seven shutouts in the Tier 1 league. All of those numbers led the league, just as his .961 save percentage led CAHA, where he allowed 0.50 goals per game.
Other team members include forwards: Victor Ouellet Massicotte, who along with Wolthers had 28 points in Tier 1 play, Ryan Green (23 points), Benjamin Biester (21 points), Dalton Garcia (19 points), Spencer Light (13 points) and Tim Marchant (12 points). Defensemen included: Kobe Pane (19 points), Collin Madrid (16 points), Jerrett Overland (9 points) and Patrick Harrington (9 points).
Shea was second in the Tier 1 league with a 14-1-1 record and .944 and 1.22 numbers. His five shutouts were third. He led CAHA with a 0.44 gaa and was second with a .954 save percentage.
The numbers are nice to reflect on, but …
“As Scott Niedermayer says, he’s never won a championship in the regular season,” Kim said. “The players can’t worry about what’s next. They have to make sure they’re as good as they can be the next game.”
The next games for the 16s will provide them with an opportunity to make a good season a truly memorable one.
- Chris Bayee