Neither having to play for new teams nor facing their final season of junior eligibility deterred former Anaheim Jr. Ducks Julian Timba and Andre Ghantous in their quests to play NCAA Division I hockey.
Within the span of a few hours this week, the close friends and former teammates made college commitments. Timba, a nimble defenseman, will play for American International College in Massachusetts, while Ghantous, a playmaking forward, is headed to Northern Michigan.
They became the fifth and sixth 1998 birth years from the Jr. Ducks to make D-I commitments, and the 19th and 20th overall, in the past five years.
“I’m happy for them. They plugged along and stuck with the process,” said Jr. Ducks Director of Player Personnel Alex Kim, who also coached both of them at 16U AAA. “It’s nerve wracking when you’re 20 and you haven’t committed.
“Both of them worked hard and were great teammates.”
Timba played three seasons with the Jr. Ducks and before that for Orange County Hockey Club. He is thriving in his first season with Bismarck of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) after two seasons with Salmon Arm of the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL).
Timba has 11 points in 12 games thus far this season after scoring 17 in 48 games last season at Salmon Arm.
His story – as is the case of so many in Southern California – is one of persistence. He and a group of teammates car pooled to practice in Anaheim and Yorba Linda from Oceanside every day from the time he was a Squirt through his first year of Midget 18U.
“My time with the Jr. Ducks was probably the best years of my life,” Timba said. “My teammates there are still my best friends, including Andre, whom I’m so happy for.
“The Ducks have done an amazing job developing players, and we had a very good team.”
His second year of 16Us included a trip to the USA Hockey Nationals with a group that included Ghantous and four other D-I commits (Patrick Choi, Justin Dixson, Jack Gates and Chad Sasaki) and a handful of others who are in the mix for college spots. Gates is in his sophomore season at Colorado College.
At 18U, his D partner was Kyle Mayhew, who is in his freshman season at Denver and one of four 1997 birth years from the club already playing D-I hockey.
Kim said Timba’s skill set fits well with the direction the game is moving today.
“Julian is a really agile, smooth skater who can move the puck,” Kim said. “The speed of the game isn’t too much for him.
“The other thing is he’s always in a great mood. He was a model teammate, and his family was really, really committed to the program.”
While the process of working toward college was a long one, Timba said the recruitment by AIC went fairly quickly.
“Once they started showing interest, I did some investigating about their program, and my style of play fits theirs well,” he said. “They want puck-moving defensemen, and that is what I do.”
Jumping to a new team in a new league this season was a daunting prospect, but Timba said he could not be happier with Bismarck.
“Coach Layne Sedevie has been unbelievable for my development, just as the Jr. Ducks were,” Timba added.
Ghantous also filled out change of address cards this fall, but he remained in the BCHL, going to Penticton after two seasons in Trail.
He has 12 points in his first 15 games after putting up 44 points in each of the past two seasons. Ghantous played his second season of 16s and one season of 18s with the Jr. Ducks.
“We had a really good group with the Ducks,” he said. “I’m super excited to get an offer.”
As with Timba, fit played an important role in Ghantous’ college decision.
“Northern is a puck possession team, and that suits my game,” he said. “We had been talking for a couple of weeks, but it got more serious in the past week.”
While Ghantous has a solid scoring touch, his calling card is his passing.
“I look for my teammates first,” he said.
That creativity was regularly on display with the talented 1998 group, Kim added. “He’s a gifted playmaker. He’s very creative with the puck on his stick.”
Ghantous said his transition to a rival team this season has been seamless.
“Everyone has welcomed me in,” he said. “I have nothing but good things to say about Penticton’s organization.”
While this year’s transitions no doubt will help with Timba’s and Ghantous’ next fall, when both will begin their college careers, it’s notable that they weren’t guaranteed anything coming into their final season of junior hockey.
“It’s great for the club to see these guys commit,” said 18U AAA coach August Aiken, who assisted Kim when Timba and Ghantous played 16s for the club. “Both of them are very talented players. Sometimes good players get overlooked at first, but both of them kept working at it, and schools found them.”