Winning a USA Hockey Pacific District title takes a lot of perseverance. But what about winning one when you start the tournament with neither of your goaltenders?
That’s what the Anaheim Jr. Ducks Midget 18U AAA team faced on March 3, when their improbable run through the Tier I event to a championship began in El Segundo.
“No championship is easy, and everyone has to handle adversity, but this team pulled through every distraction,” Jr. Ducks coach Larry Barron said.
One goalie, Rob Ivy, had to sit out the first two games because of a suspension he received during the CAHA state championship game. The other, AJ Frosh, was so sick in the days leading up to Districts that he ended up in the hospital.
So Barron turned to the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League to find a replacement, calling upon Santa Margarita High’s Dylan Gluck to start the opener. Gluck helped deliver a 5-1 victory against the Los Angeles Jr. Kings.
“He stood on his head,” Barron said. “And hats off to the rest of the team for putting up a brick wall in front of him.
“The team could have made excuses but it just went out and played its heart out. And the first game in these tournaments is always very important.”
Frosh felt well enough to start the second game, on March 4, and he held up well enough during a 3-1 victory over the California Titans that included an empty-net goal.
“I let the boys know AJ was going to play the Friday game, and I told them, ‘Think about where he was a few days ago – in the hospital. He’s fighting for us, so what is your response going to be?’” Barron said. “It was one terrific game against a well-coached team in the Titans.”
Ivy returned for the third game, a tough 3-1 loss to the California Wave. It marked the Jr. Ducks’ first loss in 22 games against CAHA competition.
Due to a goal-differential tiebreaker among common opponents for the Jr. Ducks, Titans and Wave, the Jr. Ducks and Wave were matched again for the championship.
“We could have very easily not made the final. That loss woke us up,” Barron said. “We weren’t bad and Rob didn’t play badly, we just weren’t sharp as a team.”
For the final, Barron returned to Frosh in net and challenged his team to play for one another.
“The team was willing to do anything in all three zones – the defense and forwards were blocking shots all over the ice,” Barron said. “How they responded on the bench and with each was impressive. They were focused on encouraging each other, not on what the calls were. The focus was on the result we wanted.”
The Jr. Ducks got that and more – the 4-0 victory over the Wave gave them the club’s first Tier I 18U berth to Nationals.
Brandon Bergado, Jack Sitzman, Andre Ghantous and Matthew Poindexter scored goals to back Frosh’s shutout.
“All season we’ve talked about adversity – how would we face it – and resilience – staying together and playing to our team’s identity,” Barron said. “It was fantastic to see the boys do that when our season was on the line.
“We got beat by a good Wave team on Saturday, and the boys responded on Sunday with a well-executed game. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for and I couldn’t be any prouder of or excited for the boys.”
-- Chris Bayee