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.

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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.

Selects’ Comrie, De Leo, Williams head to WHL

One of the bigger questions surrounding the LA Selects’ talented group of 1995 birth year players has been where would they end up playing after this season?

It has been a foregone conclusion among many California minor hockey observers that a slew of these players — who won USA Hockey National championships in 2008 and ’09 at the Pee Wee AAA and Bantam AA levels, won silver at Bantam AAA last year and reached the quarterfinals last week as part of the Selects’ midget minor squad — would move on after this season.

One day after returning from Nationals in Connecticut, forward Chase De Leo and goaltender Eric Comrie have decided to begin the next step in their hockey careers in the Western Hockey League. Both players are headed to the squads that selected them in the Bantam drafts —  Comrie to the Tri-City Americans and De Leo to the Portland Winterhawks. One week later, center Brian Williams also signed with the Americans.

Comrie and De Leo have made college visits — including to Denver University, which has strong ties to California — and De Leo was one of three Selects who attended the U.S. National Team Development Program evaluation camp last month in Ann Arbor, Mich. Defenseman Scott Savage, one of seven early commitments to the USNTDP, and forward Ryan Siroky also attended that camp.

A few observations on the trio:

Comrie is the one of the three best  young goaltenders I’ve seen in California during the past three years (John Keeney now of the USHL’s Omaha Lancers and Branden Jensen now of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants are the other). The bigger the game, the better Comrie seems to play, and nowhere was that more evident to me than at the 2010 Nationals tournament.

De Leo’s improvement this season was dramatic, and it coincided with him growing and getting stronger. He’s always good skating ability and a terrific release. Every time I watched him play he stood out.

Williams is simply the best skater I’ve seen come out of California in recent memory. Though still a bit on the small side (5-foot-9, 160 pounds), his poise with the puck and his wheels make him almost unhittable.

Savage, whom I write about in April’s issue of California Rubber Magazine, will head to Ann Arbor for the next two seasons and then possibly right to Boston College, which he has verbally committed to.

All four are ones to watch going forward.

Eight more players from CA are WHL Bantam picks

Last Thursday, the WHL held its annual Bantam draft, and eight players from California were selected.

The one that most people will talk about, and rightly so, is goaltender Eric Comrie, who has been the backbone of a very, very strong LA Selects 95s team for several years. Comrie was outstanding at the recent USA Hockey Nationals and will have no shortage of opportunities to further his career. Given his family’s ties to Edmonton (his father Bill founded The Brick chain of stores) it’s not unreasonable to think he could land in the Dub.

What also was notable, at least to me, is some of the players who were not selected – specifically the Selects’ entire top line of Adam Erne, Ryan Siroky and Max Becker. In some cases, the families made it known their sons won’t play in the league. Every scout and coach I’ve talked to over the past year projects all three to be high-end players in Junior and possibly beyond.

You have to admire the Tri-City American’s approach. In addition to selecting Comrie, they picked teammates Brian Williams and Andrew Oglevie. I see a package deal as highly unlikely because linemates Williams and Oglevie strongly favor the college route.

One player who was drafted, San Diego Jr. Gulls defenseman Alec McCrea (by Regina in the 10th round), already has a relative (cousin, we think) in the WHL – forward Markus McCrea of Everett.