Equipping players to advance in hockey is one thing, helping them find those opportunities is another.
The Anaheim Jr. Ducks are building a reputation of doing both. As the club concluded its fifth overall season of AAA hockey it boasted impressive placement statistics.
Nearly four dozen players have gone on to play Junior hockey at some level, two dozen have gone on to prep school with 10 of them then playing some level of Junior after that.
This past season there were 30 former Jr. Ducks playing in juniors in leagues ranging from the United States Hockey League (USHL) to the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) to the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and another 14 at prep schools. In all, Jr. Ducks were in nine junior leagues.
The club’s imprint on college hockey also continued to grow. Seven players with ties to the club played Division I hockey this past season – including California Rubber Magazine All-California co-player of the year Troy Loggins, and another eight are scheduled to join them in the next two years. The club also has placed four players at Division III schools and another four are playing ACHA hockey.
“It’s a collective effort with the coaches we have,” Jr. Ducks Director of Player Personnel Alex Kim said. “We’re trying to develop and prepare them for the challenge that awaits them at the next level.
“We’re trying to impart life and hockey lessons so they’re better equipped for the challenges that junior and college hockey present them. (The number of players moving on) is a testament to all of our coaches trying to instill attributes that lend themselves to success.”
Put another way – “We want to prepare them for life as well as hockey, and we encourage everyone to adopt that approach,” Director of Coaches Craig Johnson said.
One of the larger groups to make an impact thus far has been the 1998 birth year group, which Kim assembled as 15-year-olds for the 2013-14 season. A year later, they won the North American Prospects Hockey League title and a Pacific District championship en route to a USA Hockey Nationals berth.
Forward Paul Selleck played his entire youth hockey career with the club, going to Nationals four times in five seasons for four different coaches, before enjoying a solid first season of juniors with Alberni Valley of the BCHL.
“Each coach taught me something different,” Selleck said. “I had everything I needed; I never needed to look elsewhere.
“The coaching helped prepare me for success at the junior level. They were hard on us, but they kept us accountable for every detail in practice.
“When I got to junior I realized how many people were gunning for my spot. You realize it’s a business. Alex and (18U AAA coach) August (Aiken) know what practices are like at the next level and then don’t let you off easy. That helped me.”
Selleck is one of 14 players from his team who is or has played in junior.
One, forward Jack Gates, played every game for a revitalized Colorado College team as a freshman this past season. Gates said the competitive nature of the Jr. Ducks’ AAA program paid huge dividends for him this season as well as the previous two, when he played for Janesville of the NAHL.
“We had such a good team that we were competing for our spot every day – which is how it is in juniors,” Gates said. “It was nice to be able to practice with skilled players and to play with them. Being on the ice with the best players in the state drives your compete and skill levels up.”
For Josh Groll, who joined the club last summer and committed to the University of Michigan in the fall, there were a few other noticeable differences.
“What stands out to me is how professionally everything is run,” said Groll, who along with 16U AAA teammate Ryan Johnson won a gold medal for Team USA in the Five Nations Tournament last August. “Every day we were expected to work our hardest. A lot was expected, and we pushed each other.
“They also have several rinks, so when we were getting ready for Nationals we could add practices when we needed to, which was nice.”
Decision-makers at the top levels of the game are taking note of the club’s progression as well.
In addition to his gold last summer, Ryan Johnson also became the highest-drafted Californian ever in the USHL Futures Draft in May 2017 when he went third overall to Sioux Falls. Fellow 2001 Cam York became the club’s first player to make the U.S. National Team Development Program. And Johnson, 2001 Nicholas Kent and 2000 Slava Demin all have been invited to the USNTDP’s top-40 evaluation camp. Demin, who has signed with the University of Denver, is projected to be a second-round pick in June’s NHL Entry Draft and has helped Wenatchee win the Fred Page Cup as BCHL champion and the Doyle Cup for Western Canada.
Competing in the heavily scouted Tier 1 Elite Hockey League has helped Jr. Ducks players gain notice from scouts, but so too has the club’s success in the Pacific District. Seven teams, including the 16U and 18U squads this past season, have won District titles and reached the Tier I Nationals. The 16U squad, coached by Kim and Craig Johnson, won the club’s first bronze medal last month after its run to the semifinal round.
“We had competitive teams every season,” said Colorado College commit Chad Sasaki, another ’98 who also is a Wenatchee teammate of Demin’s. “You knew you were going to get great coaching and compete at the highest levels.
“The program did a ton for me and my teammates, giving us exposure. Getting seen and playing at such a high level prepared us for juniors.”
Gates, his former – and future, teammate added, “Every tournament we went to, there was a reason – not only to grow as a team but to gain exposure. Alex was really good at getting us exposure to the best coaches and the best schools. He always knew where to get you seen by coaches at the next levels.”
There has been a trickle-down effect as well as Jr. Ducks AA players now are joining NA3HL and Western States Hockey League junior teams.
“A lot of kids have taken different paths, and we’re proud them all,” Craig Johnson said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there for players, they’re working hard to get them.”
“Much of the credit has to go to those players who were willing to do extra work when no one was watching,” he said. “As coaches we see who the true students of the game are, who the good teammates are. When you see these things, it makes you that much more willing to go the extra mile for them.
“But these players were persistent and determined. That’s why they’re reaching their goals.”