For one day, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks’ Pee Wee AAA team was Chicago’s team.
The 2006 birth year squad won three consecutive playoff games against teams from the Windy City to win the SuperTacks Division at the CCM World Invite in Chicago on Nov. 4. The tournament field included 526 teams, including 24 in the Jr. Ducks’ division.
The Jr. Ducks capped their title run with a remarkable three victories in a little more than eight hours.
“That was a challenge, having to beat those three Chicago teams all in one day,” Jr. Ducks coach Eugene Kabanets said.
The Jr. Ducks started their day at 7:40 a.m. with a quarterfinal against the top-ranked Chicago Young Americans, winning 4-0.
“That built a lot of confidence for the team,” Kabanets added. “To beat a team like that 4-0 in their home city makes it that much bigger. “
Less than four hours later, the Jr. Ducks blanked Team Illinois, 2-0, in the semifinals. That set up a final against Chicago Fury at 3 p.m., and the Jr. Ducks took that, 5-4, to bring home a banner from one of the top youth hockey tournaments in the world.
“I believe our strength was we all played well as a team,” Kabanets said. “We didn’t have one or two players who dominated.
“In the quarterfinals, three different players scored our four goals. In the semifinals, two different players scored our two goals. In the championship game, four players scored our five goals. It was the perfect moment for our team.”
Goaltender Olivier Caballero was selected the MVP of the SuperTacks Division. He and fellow goalie Rudy Arishin combined for three shutouts in the tournament and held foes to just one goal in two other games.
“To shut teams down you need to defend well all over the ice,” Kabanets said. “I was happy to see Olivier recognized, but it was a reflection of our entire team playing good defense.”
In addition to the two goaltenders, the team included defensemen Oliver Clarke, Max Holland, Liam McGuern, Kai Mencel, Andrew O’Sullivan and Brendan Vincent; it also included forwards Lewis Beddow, Nicholas Christianson, Trevor Connelly, Memphis Day, Tyler Kedzo, Logan Mazzella, Chase Stefanek and Aidan Yi.
Kabanets was assisted by Alex Vasilevski, Scott Connelly, Tom O’Sullivan and Albert Yi. Kristin O’Sullivan is the team’s manager.
The Jr. Ducks’ championship capped a weekend in which it scored 30 goals, while allowing just 10.
The 2006 group, which also will play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee Wee Tournament in February, has experienced a good deal of success so far because of its camaraderie, said Kabanets, who has coached the core of the team for six years, many since they were Mites.
“This is a very tight group,” he said. “We have four or five new players this season, and they have fit in well.”
The longtime Jr. Ducks coach attributed his group’s ongoing success - which included a runner-up finish in 2017 in the CCM tournament's Elite Division - to several factors.
“In California, we see families and players move out of state but not many moving in, so we have to do a good job developing our own players,” Kabanets said. “That is what we’re doing well at the Jr. Ducks.
“From Learn to Play, to in-house, to A and B, to AA levels, our players are prepared well. That’s why you see all of our AAA teams – not just this one – doing well. Players are prepared when they get to this level.
“The other thing is we’re fortunate to have great support from our parents and from the club. They both help any way they can.”
That was demonstrated on Nov. 4, when the Jr. Ducks reigned in Chicago.
This also marks the second time a Jr. Ducks team has won a title at the World Invite in Chicago. The club’s 2001 team won a championship as Squirts in 2010.