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.