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.

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.

 

 

Pacific Districts leftovers – LA Selects edition

The LA Selects sent three of their AAA teams to the Pacific District regionals this past weekend, and while the Pee Wees and Bantams advanced to the USA Hockey Nationals, I wanted to start with the 16U team.

Coach Sandy Gasseau‘s squad lost a heart-breaking semifinal to the Alaska Wolves, 4-3, in quadruple overtime in a game that ranks with the most exciting I’ve watched at this level during the past four seasons. The Selects had several chances to win it, particularly early in multiple overtimes, and ultimately outshot Alaska, 46-34, in the semifinal.

The Selects, who got second-period goals from Ethan Somoza, Stefan Malmlund and defenseman Kyle Mitsunaga (who led the team with three goals and four points for the tournament), qualified for districts as the CAHA State champion. After two round-robin victories, they lost to the rival LA Jr. Kings, 3-0, to set up the semifinal against Alaska.

At State I had a chance to ask Gasseau about his team, and he told me the season had been an unpredictable journey. He had several players playing AAA hockey for the first time and wasn’t sure how they would adapt. He saw improvement throughout the campaign, despite the loss of captain Ryan Schlerf for more than half of the season due to a severe concussion.

The Selects’ 16s deserve a lot of credit for what they accomplished and the heart they showed.

&&&

After the Selects’ Pee Wee 99s won the Elite Division of the Quebec International tournament, adding a district title would be no sweat, right? Not exactly.

The Jr. Kings led the Selects, 4-3, with 2 minutes to play only to see Brannon McManus tie and Vanya Lodnia, who was the MVP of the Quebec tournament, win it on a power-play goal just 11 seconds into overtime.

The Jr. Kings had taken a 4-3 lead with 4 minutes to play in regulation on Justin Ferrall’s second goal

“They’ve come through all year. This is a pretty resilient group,” Selects coach Shawn Pitcher said. “Never at any time did I feel they were in panic mode. They just kept plugging away.”

The Jr. Kings jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals by Casey Rhodes and Ferrall before the Selects rallied to go up 3-2 on strikes by McManus, Lodnia and Jake McGrew. The Jr. Kings tied it going into the third period on Nick Castro’s power-play goal.

“We knew (the Jr. Kings) were going to be hungry; it’s our rival,” Pitcher said. “Give the Kings credit, they didn’t give up.”

Meanwhile, the Selects’ Bantam 97s topped the Jr. Kings, 6-0, in the final to cap a weekend in which they outscored their foes, 35-4, and earned their first Nationals trip.

Robby Jackson led the tournament in points, while linemate Ty Comrie topped it in goals.

“Jackson was spectacular,” Selects coach Rick Kelly said of the center, who has nearly 200 points this season and is considered the top U.S. prospect on the West Coast among 97s. “I don’t think there is a player out there who wouldn’t have good chemistry with Robby. He is that good.”

Goaltender Evan Sarthou allowed just one goal all weekend.

“He was the MVP,” said Kelly, who has led numerous teams to Nationals. “It’s hard to spot the goalie when you win by wide margins, but he was just phenomenal. We started slow in our first game and he made one big save after another. He was the game-saver.”

Pacific District leftovers … the OC Hockey Club edition

OC Hockey Club’s Midget AAA teams left a strong impression on me this season, and I wasn’t the only one.

The hard-hitting 16U and 18U teams from Yorba Linda didn’t leave El Segundo with a Pacific District title, but as they had all season, they gave every one a tough game.

A quick review of both teams’ performance follows, and I want to give a strong nod to brothers Jim and Joe Burcar, who coach and assist each other with the two teams.

The 16s reached the semifinals after a 2-0-1 (OTL) record in round-robin play. They gave the Jr. Kings their toughest game (it was 3-2 at one point in the third period) and were a tough out. They came in having finished runner-up at the CAHA States.

As he was at State, defenseman Riley Hummitsch was the team’s leading scorer (6 points). A pair of forwards, Shane McMahan and Elijah Barriga, each chipped in five points. The goaltending combo of Jon Manlow and Kenneth Eakle was solid with both boasting save percentages north of .910.

They were in every game, regardless of outcome.

The 18s went 1-2 yet had a positive goal differential (6-5). They played what amounted to a semifinal in the round robin against the Jr. Kings and lost, 2-1, on two power-play goals.

Like the 16s, they play a physical style, which often results in a lot of penalties. I believe it’s important to draw the distinction between playing tough and playing dirty. I’ve watched this group at least a half dozen times this season, and I can say OCHC plays tough without crossing the line.

The CAHA State champs, the OC 18s were led at Districts by Lonnie Clary with three goals and defenseman Adam Plonski with three assists. Goalie Arthur Brey was stellar, finishing with a 1.67 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.

One of the things that struck me about this team was how the core of it has played together for several years, and many of the players won a 16AA National title two years ago. Their improvement from then to 18AAA this season has been pronounced. That tells me this is a dedicated group of players, who work hard and receive excellent coaching and skill development instruction.

It should be noted that OCHC was the only California club that sent both Midget teams to the Prospects Hockey League playoffs.

While their seasons ended earlier than they’d have preferred, the boys at OCHC have nothing to be ashamed about their seasons.

Pacific District leftovers … Jr. Kings 16U edition

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Jr. Kings on winning the Midget 16U and 18U teams for winning Pacific District regional titles in El Segundo, and to the LA Selects for winning the Bantam and Pee Wee districts in Simi Valley.

Since I spent the better part of three days watching tournament play at the Toyota Sports Center, I’ll focus on the 16s and 18s in this and the next post post.The Jr. Kings’ two Midget AAA teams certainly took different paths to earning their banners.

The 16s, coached by Louis Pacella and Steven Cohen, rolled through their bracket, ultimately going 5-0 with a remarkable 25-3 goal differential. They featured the division’s top three scorers in Ryan Siroky (10 points), Taylor Maruya and Keanu Yamamoto (9 points apiece) and the top two goaltenders in Gavin Nieto and Tyler Caronia.

That doesn’t take into account forward Nolan Stevens, a ’96 who has been invited to the USNTDP’s final 40 camp, defenseman Riley Alferd, who has played in the USHL already, and forward Garrett Gamez, who turned down an opportunity to play in the USHL this season. And as impressive as the goaltending was, remember that top goalie Thatcher Demko has been in the USHL since late last fall and became the youngest player in the history of the top Jr. A league in the United States to pitch a shutout.

The 16s had a clear speed advantage in every game, particularly against a tired Alaska Wolves team in the final (the Wolves had gone four overtimes vs. the LA Selects the night before). Using that to their advantage was part of the plan, Yamamoto told me afterward.

“It’s something we talked about and we worked hard to exploit,” the winger said.

The Jr. Kings also excelled on special teams, and with the speed and top-end skill on the roster it’s not difficult to see why.

“Coach has a great system for special teams, and we have focused on that in practice,” said Maruya, who was the recipient of one of the classier moves I’ve observed after the game.

Maruya was the team’s only returning player from a season ago and his spent his hockey life in the Jr. Kings organization. When the captains were called up to receive the banner and trophy, captain Ryan Siroky and assistant Michael Damien insisted Maruya, also an assistant, go up alone to pick up the hardware (and software, as it were).

“It was a great experience for me,” Maruya said. “It meant a great deal to me to hold that banner.”

Pacella told me that the team dedicates a game to each player and that Sunday’s was dedicated to Maruya.

“He’s been loyal to this club when he could have jumped elsewhere many times,” the coach said. “I’m really happy for him.”

Pacella will be making his sixth consecutive trip to the USA Hockey Nationals, but his first with the Jr. Kings after five in a row with LA Hockey/LA Selects.

“This was incredibly special,” he said after the championship game. “This was a team we put together on the fly. We had one returning Jr. King. A lot of work went into finding the right players. There is no ego on this team and a great work ethic. They wanted to make Nationals the goal, and they accomplished it.”

Next up is Nationals, and this is a team that could do some damage there.

***

A few more personal observations on this team. I had seen some of these players before, notably Siroky, Alferd and Gamez. I knew Stevens was very good. Maruya and Yamamoto were eye-openers to me. Yamamoto’s speed, agility and stickhandling were extremely impressive, as was his ability to read the play. Maruya brought more speed and displayed plenty of finishing skill, but he also played with an edge. The defense core, headed by Alferd and Damien, was solid.

Maruya wasn’t the only longtime Jr. King rewarded with a trip to Nationals. Manager Terry Bain, who has been involved with the club for several years, will make her first trip as well.

09-10 AAA hockey in California

(Updated on June 11)

Here is what we know thus far about programs playing Midget AAA hockey in California for the upcoming 2009-10 season – there likely will be eight  programs at the 16U level and six at the 18U:

The 18Us: California Stars, LA Selects, LA Jr. Kings (with CA Wave additions), OC Hockey Club, SoCal Titans and San Jose Jr. Sharks

The 16Us: California Heat, California Stars, LA Selects, LA Jr. Kings, OC Hockey Club, SoCal Titans, San Diego Gulls and San Jose Jr. Sharks

This is tentative, but it is what has been posted thus far. Can anyone remember a time when there were 14 Midget AAA teams in the state?

The first weekend in June was tryout time, so I expect these to become more concrete in the coming weeks.

11 California teams at Nationals

A total of 11 California youth hockey teams have advanced to the USA Hockey National Championships, to be held at various locations April 1-5.

I have been unable to confirm if this is a record, but it is close if it isn’t.

The teams are:

Tier I

18U Midget – LA Jr. Kings

Bantam – LA Selects

Pee Wee – LA Selects

Tier II

18 U Midget – Tri Valley Blue Devils

16U Midget – California Heat

Bantam – LA Hockey Club

Pee Wee – San Jose Jr. Sharks

Girls/Women’s

12U -Anaheim Lady Ducks

14U – Anaheim Lady Ducks

19U – LA Selects

Women’s C – San Jose Lady Sharks

Congratulations to all of these teams and their families!

Happy New Year!

Thanks to all of you have helped during the book project, either directly or indirectly. I always tell people that you will not find a better group of humans than those involved in hockey, and that is particularly true in California.

A fairly prominent member of USA Hockey told me recently that two things stand out on the national level about California players. First, the commitment to the game is generally stronger in CA players than in ones from other states because hockey is NOT a game of convenience out here. It costs a lot, and there are not lots of places to play (yet) relatively speaking. Second, the skill development of players out here is above average. Run through alumni lists I’ve compiled on www.calirubber.com and on the book’s site, www.palmtreesandfrozenponds.com. The common thread – virtually all of those players (male and female) are excellent skaters and stick-handlers.

That is a credit to the youth coaches in California and to innovative people like the Turcottes (stickhandling gurus) and their staff, and Robbie Glantz (powerskating guru) and his staff.

I look forward to great things in 2009 from California hockey, and I wish each of you the Happiest of New Years!

Midget tournament in El Segundo

Hockey fans in Southern California have a fantastic option to watch some quality Midget hockey this weekend in El Segundo.
The LA Jr. Kings are playing host to a Midwest Elite Hockey League Showcase event, which features all five Detroit teams (Little Caesar’s, Honeybaked, Compuware, Belle Tire and Victory Honda) and all five Pacific Division teams (Dallas, Denver, KC, Phoenix and the hosts).
Check out calirubber.com and lajrkings.com for more details!

All games are being played at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo and admission is free.