Wading through data

During my “down time” I’ve taken to re-reading chapters I’ve written for Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds and scanning the interviews I’ve conducted over the past 5-6 years, and I’ve concluded many of you I’ve spoken to are right — that is A LOT of information.

So I’ve reached the conclusion that the first book needs to focus on youth hockey and the influences for its growth. So yeah, the pros will be covered to some extent, but not in the comprehensive manner I’d originally thought. That is a different dragon to slay.

So while I’m sure Stanley Cup-winning coaches Darryl Sutter and Randy Carlyle have compelling stories to tell. I KNOW men such as Buddy McKinnon, Ludi Graf, Jeff Turcotte and James Gasseau (among hundreds of others) do.

And that’s really the point — honoring the players, coaches AND PARENTS who made the growing youth hockey trend what it is today.

So we press on! Thank you for your patience and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

A side note: Graf, now 82, recently retired and U-T San Diego ran a nice story on his career.

2013 California NHL Draft prospects, mid-term

NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings were released this week, and there are four players with ties to California who were listed: Eric Comrie, Adam Erne, Merrick Madsen and Trevor Moore.

There also were a handful of players who, in my opinion, were overlooked. It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me because the CSS rankings tend to trend heavily toward CHL prospects, usually at the expense of U.S.-born players in the USHL. More on that later.

Here are the four that CSS ranked:

Eric Comrie is the second-ranked North American goaltending prospect, and it’s not hard to see why he’s generating buzz that he could be a first-round pick come June. The 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie has a 20-14-3 record, 2.62 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for a young, middle of the pack Tri-City Americans team in the Western Hockey League. The former LA Select is tied for fourth in wins, is seventh in save percentage and eighth in gaa in the WHL.

Left wing Adam Erne is rated 13th among North American skaters and is enjoying an excellent season with Quebec of the QMJHL. Erne scored a goal in Wednesday night’s CHL Top Prospects game, and leads his team in scoring with 54 points (20 goals and 34 assists) in 43 games. He’s also plus-9. He played two seasons of Bantam hockey for the LA Selects.

Left wing Trevor Moore is the 108th-ranked North American skater, and is enjoying a fine season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He leads the Storm in scoring, with 38 points (15-23) in 35 games and has been among the league’s top-10 or close to it in scoring all season. The 5-10, 175-pound Denver University commit also played for the LA Selects.

Merrick Madsen, who is playing for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, checks in as the 34th-ranked North American goalie prospect. Madsen has committed to Harvard. Prior to going to prep school, he played for the California Heat, West Valley Wolves and Valencia Express. His mom is the Heat’s club president and his father coaches at the club.

The first three players on this list all were teammates for the Selects’ 95s, coached by Sandy Gasseau, Rick Kelly and Bill Comrie. A handful of their teammates also could gain some consideration, including USNTDP defenseman Scott Savage and Shattuck St. Mary’s center Max Becker. Savage has 5 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games for the national program, while Becker was third on SSM’s varsity with 48 points (12-36) through 38 games.

Three other prospects have generated a fair amount of buzz, and with good reason, yet none appear in the rankings, adding fuel to my belief of the CSS’ bias.

USNTDP goaltender Thatcher Demko has been very good this season, compiling a 13-5-2 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 22 starts. He’s been even better in international competitions. He helped Team USA win the Four Nations Cup in November, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 gaa. The former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Jr. King stands 6-4, and it is a head scratcher to me why he isn’t ranked when every coach and scout I’ve spoken with has raved about the Boston College commit.

Another goaltender who has had a very good first half to his season is former Orange County Hockey Club netminder Artt Brey, who started 12-0 for Dubuque in the USHL and had a 16-3-2 records midway through the season. The win total and his 2.11 gaa were tied for second in the league, and his .907 save percentage was in the top 10. He’s a ’94, and that in part explains his omission.

And Moore’s Tri-City teammate Garrett Gamez also has generated some buzz. The 6-foot, 180-pound DU commit had 10 points (6-4) with a plus-3 mark in his first 27 games of junior. He played for LA Hockey and OC Hockey.

NHL debut candidates from California

They’re halfway through NHL training camps — already! It’s been just three days, and I see three candidates from California to possibly make their NHL debuts in the near future, and a fourth prospect with ties to the state to be in a team’s lineup come this weekend.

1. Wing Beau Bennett spent some time in Penguins practice on a line with All-Stars Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday. Bennett, a former LA Jr. King and LA Select who is in his first pro season after two NCAA seasons at Denver University, led Pittsburgh’s AHL club (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) in scoring with 24 points in 30 games. It’s a not a stretch at all that he will be in the Penguins’ lineup on opening night, and I have no doubt he will play several NHL games this season

2. Defenseman Matt Tennyson is in camp with the San Jose Sharks after a making a strong showing during his first pro season, ranking near the top of the Worcester (AHL) scoring list all season. Tennyson, who played two seasons for the Jr. Sharks before heading off to Juniors, spent the past three seasons at Western Michigan University with several other Californians before leaving school to sign with the Sharks as a free agent. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster he almost surely will be the first D-man called up.

3. Wing Emerson Etem also is in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His skating and scoring touch give him a chance to be with the club at some point this season, though his first pro season, after an absolutely dominant WHL campaign a year ago, has been sluggish at times. The Ducks have three forward openings to fill with younger players and/or veteran free agents, and Etem (like Bennett a 2010 first-round pick) certainly is in the mix. The guess (emphasis on guess) is that he will play up at some point this year but not at the start of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Bennett’s DU teammate, Jason Zucker, who made his debut with the Minnesota Wild last season. He has been off to a strong start with the AHL Houston Aeros, leading them in scoring for much of the season. With the Wild perpetually searching for more offense, he’s in a good position to start the season with them. But Minnesota is loaded with prospects, and it might decide he needs a bit more seasoning in the A before bringing him up.

Ducks prospects camp report

I had the opportunity Monday to catch up with all three of California’s prospects  who are participating in the Anaheim Ducks’ prospects camp, which concluded today at Anaheim Ice — Emerson Etem, Nic Kerdiles and Ryan Lasch.

All three played well in Monday’s scrimmage, which featured an uptempo pace throughout.

What’s interesting to me about the three is not only the different paths each took to get to this point, but the similarities in their most recent seasons.

Each of the three represented Team USA in international competition in 2012 — Etem at the World Junior Championships in January, Kerdiles at the World Under-18 Championships in April and Lasch at the World Championships in May.

Each either led his team or his league in goal scoring or points.

Etem, playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers, struck for a Western Hockey League-best 61 goals (and 50 in 50 games) while posting 107 points in 65 regular-season games. He led the Hat in scoring.

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Team Development Program in scoring with 48 points in 54 games, and he led them at the U18 Worlds, which he capped with a five-point game in a gold-medal blowout of Sweden.

Lasch put 61 points for the Lahti Penguins and led the Finnish Elite League in scoring. Lahti reached the league finals for the first time in its history.

How did they look against their peers? Pretty good.

All three were around the puck the entire scrimmage. Etem displayed an extra gear in his skating, allowing him to beat defenders one on one repeatedly. He consistently looked for the open man once in the zone. Kerdiles scored a goal and protected the puck very well, particularly along the wall, allowing his team to maintain possession in the zone. Lasch helped generate offensive chance after chance with his passing and shooting. His skating and passing were even better than I expected.

I came away with the impression that all three have a chance to play in Anaheim in the not-so-distant future. Etem and Lasch could contend for roster spots this fall. Both are physically mature, and Lasch already has two years of pro experience. Kerdiles is much closer than many might realize, and his poise with the puck was no less impressive, but Ducks director of player development Todd Marchant told me the club wants Kerdiles to continue to develop at the University of Wisconsin this season.

One other thing: each of the three is keenly aware of how important it would be for a California prospect to make a local team and play well.

Said Lasch: “It says something about the direction California hockey is going. There’s more players coming out of here with more skill. If that trend continues you’re going to see more progress (in the game) as the years go.”

Added Etem: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence the three of us are here. There is a lot of development going on in California, starting with the coaching and skill development year-round. A lot of rinks keep the ice in so we’re able to train all year.”

Kerdiles pointed to the Ducks’ Stanley Cup triumph in 2007 and the Kings’ matching one last month as harbingers of more good things in the grass-roots game. “I think California hockey is going to blossom.”

Marchant summed it up. “It’s nice to see local kids be recognized for the work they’ve put in and being drafted and playing professional hockey. It would be a great tribute to the organization and the players if at some point they’re playing on the big team.”

 

California’s 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects

There are nine players with ties to California who have appeared on watch lists or ranked at various times this season by the NHL Central Scouting Service. Here is a closer look those draft prospects. An NHL amateur scout offered his assessment of selected prospects.

F Nic Kerdiles, 6-foot-2, 201-pounds, USNTDP

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).  The former LA Select was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, and he capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden. … Scout: “The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger. He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.”

F Miles Koules, 5-11, 189, USNTDP

The former LA Select appeared on the fall watch list and in both rankings, finishing as the 201st North American skater. … LA native had 16 points, including 12 assists in 42 games. … He recently de-committed to North Dakota to play for Medicine Hat of the WHL next season. … Scout: “Has big-time skill, gets pucks to people. Smart but needs to work on his strength and skating to separate himself from the pack.”

F Nik Olsson, 6-1, 194, USNTDP

Olsson (Escondido) had his season again ended early by injuries. He was rated 136th in the mid-term rankings. Five goals in 41 games. … Scout: “Tough for a team to pick him because of lack of games. Depending on what he does school-wise he might be drafted out of college.”

F Adam Reid, 6-4, 205, Northeastern (Hockey East)

Freshman from Chino Hills emerged as a top-notch penalty killer and energy player who chipped in nine points (including six goals) in 33 games. … Was 143rd in mid-term rankings in his second year of draft eligibility. … Scout: “He plays a north-south power game. A character player. If he’s not drafted, he could be a college free-agent target.”

Three more players were ranked on the fall watch list:

F Adam Chlapik, 6-0, 181, left shot, Muskegon (USHL)

The former LA Jr. King had 16 points in 43 USHL games with three clubs this season.

D Chris Buchanan, 6-1, 185, right shot, Alaska (NAHL)

The San Jose native and former Jr. Shark provided solid defense in 47 games for the Avalanche.

C Dennis Kravchenko, 5-9, 168, left shot, Cedar Rapids (USHL)

The former LA Select (Laguna Niguel) had 21 points in 34 games for the Roughriders after putting up 18 points in 30 games for Wichita Falls of the NAHL.  … A 2013 Vermont commit.

In addition, left wing Stefan Matteau, who played for the San Jose Jr. Sharks as a Mite, was rated 17th among North American skaters on the final rankings. The 6-2, 210-pounder also plays for the USNTDP.

And defenseman Josh Hanson, who played for the LA Selects Midget 16U AAA team in 2009-10, climbed to 102nd in the final rankings after being 149th at mid-term. The 6-2, 199-pounder had 13 assists for Portland of the WHL.

Taking a closer look at California draft prospect Nic Kerdiles

When Nic Kerdiles was the final pick for California’s 2004 The Brick Invitational Tournament team the selection had a lot to do with his size and potential.

When an NHL club calls his name, most likely during the first or second round, at next month’s Entry Draft in Pittsburgh those will remain two appealing attributes, but the club will get a much more refined version of the young man who was exclusively a roller hockey player until 2003.

“Nic has developed about as far as anyone could,” said Louis Pacella, his coach for six seasons with LA Hockey Club/LA Selects. “When he started it was always about what he could be, not what he was.”

Fast forward to the present and the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Kerdiles (Irvine) progressed to the point where he led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).

Kerdiles, who was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden.

Team USA dominated the field, outscoring foes 27-4 despite having fellow draft prospect Stefan Matteau ruled ineligible because he had not played hockey for two consecutive full years in the United States.

“He’s obviously a good player,” Kerdiles said. “I knew I needed to produce and play well, better than I have all year.”

Kerdiles, who comes from an extremely close family, had additional motivation at Worlds. He played with a heavy heart after the recent passing of his paternal grandfather, who was scheduled to join Nic’s parents, one of his older sisters, an aunt and a cousin in the Czech Republic.

“That was a big part of why I played so well – I had him looking over me at the World Championships,” he said. “My grandpa had done so much for me. I wished he could have seen me, but our entire family has grown even closer.”

And Kerdiles redirects credit to his parents, Michel and Nathalie, as quickly as he would a point shot headed toward an opponent’s net.

“They have great work ethics and they have sacrificed so much for me,” Nic said. “That’s where I get it from. This is a way I can thank them for all they’ve done.”

What they and his sisters, Marine and Mailys, have done is instill a team-first attitude, Pacella said.

“All of them sacrificed to help him; he has a great support system at home,” Pacella said. “They are very loyal to their son.

“It’s not easy being a Tier 1 hockey player in Southern California, but they just supported Nic so he could develop physically. He didn’t spend a lot of time in private lessons. He spent more time working in the weight room and practicing.”

Whether his strong finish to the season and his labor to get stronger impact his placement in the draft remains to be seen, Kerdiles decided early on that giving himself a chance to play hockey at the highest levels was his goal.

“I’ve thought about it ever since I started playing,” he said. “My Pee Wee AAA year I started to play a bigger role and we had a real good season. By my Bantam AAA year a lot of good things (including interest from the USNTDP and major colleges) started happening.”

Watching the NHL Entry Draft in person at Staples Center and seeing good friend Emerson Etem selected in the first round by the Anaheim Ducks only steeled Kerdiles’ resolve further.

“That’s when I said, ‘Wow, this is pretty special,’” Kerdiles said. “That pushed me to work harder.”

And that has caught scouts’ attention.

“The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger,” said an NHL amateur scout. “He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.

“He has the ability to slow things down and shield the puck while he makes his reads. And he doesn’t quit after he moves.”

That Kerdiles’ game has a mature feel to it shouldn’t come as a surprise, Pacella said.

“I used to kid him that he was 14 going on 40. It’s a credit to his parents,” the coach said. “He never got involved with crap that other teen-agers did. He didn’t have to be Mr. Popular in the locker room because he was very focused.”

Now rewind eight years and it’s not hard to see why Kerdiles was an appealing choice for the Brick team.

“One thing that stood out was how hard he worked,” Pacella said. “He was always smiling on the ice, having fun. He made it to the point we couldn’t not take him.”

Come this weekend in Pittsburgh an NHL club no doubt will feel the same way.

More California hockey college commitments

It has been a busy season for California hockey off the ice as well as on it.

More than two dozen boys with ties to California have made NCAA Division I commitments since the calendar flipped to 2012, including a handful who played Midget hockey in the state this past season. (Note: more players added later in the day, please pardon those oversights)

That group includes three forwards on Louis Pacella’s LA Jr. Kings Midget 16U team – forward Ryan Siroky (Miami of Ohio), Garrett Gamez (Denver University) and Patrick Newell (St. Cloud State). Newell will be joined at SCSU by LA Selects 16U defenseman Kyle Mitsunaga, who played for Sandy Gasseau, himself a former St. Cloud State defenseman.

Gamez, who also played for the Selects, will be joined at Denver by former Jr. King and California Titan Gabe Levin and former Select Trevor Moore at Denver. Levin, who was one of the NAHL’s leading scorers this season for Fairbanks, will head to the Rockies next season. Gamez and Moore, who was one of the youngest players in the USHL this season for Tri-City, are scheduled to arrive in 2014.

One of Moore’s Tri-City teammates,  defenseman J.D. Peterson (a former Jr. Kings and California Wave player) committed to Alaska-Fairbanks. Peterson will have lots of company from the state. Former Titans defenseman Justin Woods (also with Fairbanks of the NAHL) and goaltender John Keeney, who played for Muskegon of the USHL, also gave verbal commits to the school. Keeney played for Orange County Hockey Club, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and the Selects.

A trio of players have decided to play at Vermont: former Jr. Kings goaltender Billy Faust, who set a BCHL record this season with a 46-save shutout for Nanaimo; former Selects forward Dennis Kravchenko, who split time between the NAHL and USHL; and former Select Jake Fallon, who played for Indiana of the USHL.

Former San Diego Jr. Gulls teammates Tyler Moy, a center, and Alec McCrea, a defenseman, will reunite at Harvard. Moy played Midget hockey in Chicago this past season, while McCrea played for Janesville of the NAHL. They will have company in the Ivy League as Brandon Kirk of La Verne and the Clark Cup champion Green Bay Gamblers is heading to Dartmouth (my apologies for not including Brandon earlier!).

Soren Jonzzon, who played for the Santa Clara Blackhawks, California Cougars and San Jose Jr. Sharks, will play at Quinnipiac and plans to study medicine. Another Jr. Shark, forward Max Vallis (Omaha/USHL) committed to Michigan Tech.

Two more former Selects forwards who spent this past season in the USHL also are moving on. Max Edson (Waterloo) will head to Air Force, while Austin Ortega (Cedar Rapids) is going to Nebraska-Omaha

Former Jr. Kings goaltender Tomas Sholl, who emerged as the No. 1 goalie in Fresno (NAHL) this season, committed to Bowling Green.

Two former California Stars, forward David Gandara and defenseman Shawn O’Rourke, also announced their plans. Gandara, who played for Chicago of the NAHL, will go to American International, while O’Rourke, who played for Fairbanks of the NAHL, is headed to Ferris State. O’Rourke’s father, Rob, is a longtime Southern California coach.

Two more BCHL products, Prince George defenseman Chase Golightly, who  played for the Jr. Kings and Wave, Vernon forward Darren Nowick, who also played the Jr. Kings, announced their intentions. Golightly committed to Robert Morris, while Nowick will suit up for Northern Michigan.

NHL.com takes a look at Nic Kerdiles and Stefan Matteau

NHL.com recently profiled one-time San Jose Jr. Shark Stefan Matteau and former LA Select Nic Kerdiles in an entry draft preview focusing on the U.S. National Team Development Program.

Both are projected as first-round picks in June’s draft in Pittsburgh, according to the mid-term rankings by NHL Central Scouting.

Matteau, who played for the Jr. Sharks as a Mite while his dad was skating for the NHL Sharks, describes himself as a power forward in the article and says his father has told him that the son is a better player than the father was.

Kerdiles is lauded for his all-around game in the article, particularly his skating ability, puck protection, d-zone coverage (he’s moved to center after spending last season on a wing) and his willingness and ability to score in the tough areas.

Kerdiles, incidentally, leads the U-18 program in scoring with 38 points, including 17 goals.

One interesting piece of trivia about the duo — both of their mothers are named Nathalie.

Two other prospects from California not cited in the article but widely viewed as mid-round draft choices are former LA Selects Miles Koules and Nik Olsson. I’ve written about both in California Rubber Magazine over the past two years. Both have demonstrated improvement this season, and Olsson has regained his health after a series of injuries all but wiped out his U-17 campaign.

California’s first trip to Nationals

The nearly two dozen teams from California playing in the USA Hockey Nationals this week have arrived at their various sites and no doubt are resting up for Wednesday’s opening games.

But did you know California first sent a youth hockey team to Nationals (then the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States or AHAUS) in 1962? A Bantam team playing out of Van Nuys Iceland represented the state.

What’s notable was that the team included the late Ken Vogel, who would go on to play for Jack Riley (coach of the 1960 Squaw Valley gold-medal winners) at West Point; Brian Bird, who would go on to captain Yale; and Cary Adams, who founded the PCHA, the circuit for college club teams in the Western United States.

The team was an all-star team of Southern California Junior Ice Hockey League players from the San Fernando Valley (north of downtown Los Angeles). Participants came from rinks in Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Tarzana. The SCJIHL disbanded shortly thereafter with GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) absorbing the clubs.

The team was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel.

It also surprises many to discover that by the late 60s the state was sending players to some of the top college hockey programs in the country, a topic I am tackling in depth in the hockey book.
So while we celebrate all the hard work of the boys and girls who are at Nationals this year, take a minute to consider this is the 50th anniversary of California participating in the event.

Thanks to Cary for this rare photo.

California's first youth hockey team to reach Nationals went much earlier than most might think -- 1962. The squad was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel (kneeling in front row).

Pacific District leftovers – Jr. Kings 18U edition

… the belated version.

If there was a consistent theme to the Los Angeles Jr. Kings Midget 18U team’s season it was high effort level in the face of adversity. That effort paid dividends when it mattered most and landed the team at the USA Hockey Nationals in Buffalo, N.Y., starting next week.

A bit of background. I became familiar with this edition of coach Jack Bowkus‘ team at the end of last year, when they were midway through their Tier 1 Elite League season and were on their way to winning a majority of their CAHA games. I heard repeatedly from the coach, the players and Jr. Kings officials that this was a no-ego group, one decimated by injuries for months, but also one that didn’t have some of the higher-end prospects of some recent groups Bowkus has coached.

At one point the injuries were so bad the team had three healthy defenseman available for a showcase weekend, a situation blue liner Cody Slocum described to me was “brutal”. Yet the club hung in there and got healthier down the stretch and finished their Tier 1 schedule with a 5-2-1 stretch that included wins against the Colorado Thunderbirds, Colorado Rampage and Detroit Belle Tire among others.

Bowkus said the team’s turning point might have come after a showcase in Boston in late December.

“It’s been clear ever since we left Boston that they’ve gelled as a team,” he said. “This group has no superstars, but if everyone pulls their weight we can win.”

Which brings us to the Pacific District tournament at El Segundo in mid-March. After going 1-1 in their first two round-robin games, the Jr. Kings faced Orange County Hockey Club in what amounted to an elimination game for the finals. OCHC was the one CAHA club that had played the Jr. Kings close all season, and that game was no exception. However, the Jr. Kings prevailed 2-1 on power-play goals by Joseph Kaszupski and Kyle Matsumoto.

That set up a rematch with the Alaska Wolves, who defeated the Jr. Kings 1-0 during round-robin play.

After an Ian Hoang goal put the Jr. Kings up 1-0 in the second period, the Wolves rattled off three consecutive goals and maintained a two-goal edge until late in the third period. That is when this team’s true colors shone through for a compelling comeback.

Hoang struck again on the power play, making a nice stickhandle from the lower left circle and walking in to score with 5:18 left.

“The kids knew we could play with them,” Bowkus said. “We’ve focused on making the power play simpler. Ian Hoang had an outstanding hockey game. He got us started on the comeback.”

He also had a hand in the tying goal with just 36 seconds left. Kurtis Klinger retrieved the puck and got it to Hoang in the Wolves zone. Hoang passed to defenseman Austin Ho, who had jumped into the play with Jr. Kings skating with an extra attacker. Ho and forward Harout Sarkisian then worked a give and go with Ho burying a chance in the slot to tie it.

“That was our hugest goal of the season,” Hoang said. “It pumped us up.”

Added assistant captain Devin Linker, “I knew it was going in.”

That set up an overtime played under odd circumstances. The compressor at Toyota Sports Center went out midway through the third period, so the ice was literally melting under the players’ skates. A dry scrape was conducted before overtime, but the ice conditions were less than ideal.

“It helped us a bit,” Bowkus said. “They’re more of a faster-skating, skilled team, we’re more of a chip and chase team.”

The comeback was capped 6:34 into overtime when captain Christian Salvato fired a slap shot from the top of the left circle that Paul Ramsey redirected into the net.

“Jack told us to go hard to the net every time,” Klinger said.

So the Jr. Kings are going to Nationals, as much a testimony to a never-quit attitude as anything.

“Even down 3-1, no one on our bench thought we were going to lose,” Linker said. “We kept fighting, and our playoff experience definitely helped. Really, it was just a great team effort.”

Emphasis on team.

“We don’t need one person to score in order to win,” said Klinger, also an assistant captain. “Anyone can step up on any day. That’s the style of this team.”

It’s a style that makes the Jr. Kings 18s a wild-card at Nationals … and an example of teamwork.