Eight expanded to 10. The latter number is how many Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Lady Ducks teams now are headed to the USA Hockey Youth Nationals at various sites after the Jr. Ducks’ Midget 16U AA and 18U AA teams won CAHA State championships on March 16-18 at Escondido.
The 18U AA team swept its three games at State, finishing with a 6-1 victory over the California Wave to punch its ticket to Green Bay, Wis., site of the 18U AA Nationals.
The 16U AA team overcame an early shootout loss to the Valencia Flyers to beat the Flyers twice in a row, the final time by a 6-3 margin, to earn its banner and berth in the Nationals tournament at Wayne, N.J.
The state title was a cap on a dominant CAHA season for the Jr. Ducks’ 18U AA squad. It went 22-0-1 to win the division by 11 points. In the process it allowed just 24 goals (1.04 per game) and scored 127 (more than 5.5 per game).
The 18s defeated OC Hockey Club, 6-2, in its opener at state, then edged the San Jose Jr. Sharks, 3-2, before the defeat of the Wave.
Coach Mike Perkins said the team’s success begins with its leaders.
“Justin Camba, Brian Clem and Zachary Carnes have had great years,” the coach said. “We have a ton of leadership on our team, but it starts with them.”
That leadership has been particularly important because the 18s are a younger group. Only Carnes and goalies Bailey Hayes and Angus Hill are 1999s. The team has 11 2000s and six 2001s.
“We’re very happy with the development and growth of the team,” Perkins said. “There have been some ups and downs because of our youth, but we found our groove down the stretch.
“Not only has our leadership group done a great job of buying in, but they’ve done a good conveying the message to the rest of the team.”
In CAHA games, Zachary Lane led the team with 31 points (20 goals) in 22 games, while Jacob Padgett added 30 points (19 goals) and Clem had 29 (16 goals).
Hayes led the division with a 0.77 goals-against average and .960 save percentage, while Hill had 2.70 and .932 numbers.
In addition to the goalies, Lane, Padgett, Clem, Camba and Carnes, other team members include: Wyatt Allan, Cameron Beltran, Jacob Bivens, Liam Massie, Cameron Miller, Gavin O’Bryan, Michael Pellegrino, Aiden Perez, Aidan Petrie, Blake Tallas, Brandon Washiashi and Grayson Yada.
Perkins and 16s coach Jeff Noviello and their staffs have worked together closely this season, which also has played a role in both teams’ success, Perkins said.
“This has been a collaborative effort between myself, Jeff, (director of coaches) Craig Johnson, (assistants) Doug Sheridan and John Pellegrino,” Perkins said. “For us to put together teams like this, we needed kids and families to buy in, and they have.”
The collaborative nature extended to shared practices and controlled scrimmages. So not only did players on both teams get more ice time but they faced game situations more often.
“This is a huge part of the success of both teams,” Noviello said. “We could work on the power play and the penalty kill against each other. Sometimes we’d pull a goalie to work on 6 on 5s. We were able to create game situations to help players develop.
The 16s’ state title featured more intrigue. Not only did the team have to come back and defeat Valencia twice, but it was extended to a shootout by the Jr. Ducks’ other 16U AA team. It started off with a 5-0 victory over GSE before the loss to Valencia.
“We told the team we were going to face some adversity at some point, and we did,” Noviello said. “Sure enough, we had two games that ended in shootouts on Saturday, and we won the one we needed to.”
The 16s also finished first during the regular season with a 17-2-2 record, winning the division by 11 points, and they also put together an impressive goal differential (plus-64), allowing just 21 goals in 21 regular-season games. Even with playing five games at state, the 16s gave up just six goals the entire weekend.
Bryson Fletcher led the division in scoring with 37 points (17 goals), Brendan Carley was fifth with 26 points (18 assists) and Kyle Melchior added 25 points (15 goals), good for sixth in the division.
“We created a culture everyone bought into, which is the main element of our success,” Noviello said. “We have such a good group there is no one I don’t want on the ice at any time. We have an abundance of committed players.”
As you might expect with the goals allowed number, goaltending also was a strong suit for this Jr. Ducks team. Ethan Zorbas led the division with a .959 save percentage and 1.33 GAA, and Christian Lamaster posted .940 and 2.53 numbers.
In addition to the goaltenders and Fletcher, Carley and Melchior, team members include: Luke Busher, Cayden Campbell, Nolan Conrad, Shane Domanick, Christopher Emery, Nathan Hill, Ethan Hirst, Parker James, Cory Mater, Aiden McDonald, Harley Nyhuis, Shane Swanson, Alex Villa and Kenton Wilson.
The 16s and 18s will have plenty of Orange-clad company at Nationals.
The Lady Ducks qualified six teams for Nationals – the most in the organization’s 19-year history. The LDS won Pacific District titles at 14U AA and AAA and 16U AA and AAA at San Jose earlier in March. The 19U AAA and Women’s C teams were uncontested in the district and advanced directly to Nationals.
The Jr. Ducks’ 16U AAA and 18U AAA also qualified for Nationals at Pittsburgh by winning Pacific District championships at San Jose.