SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO
|The JSerra Ice Lions pose for a team picture alongside Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke and Ducks captain Chris Pronger during Tuesday's event. |
– Amid the free agent frenzy that dominated hockey on Tuesday, the Anaheim Ducks took some time away from the fray to make history in another realm of its operations.
Gathered at JSerra
Catholic High School
in San Juan Capistrano
, the Ducks announced the start of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League. The JSerra Ice Lions will serve as the inaugural team in the first-ever Orange County
high school league and will begin regular season games in the coming months.
Along with coaches, players and parents, Ducks Executive Vice President and General Manager Brian Burke and Ducks captain Chris Pronger were also among those in attendance to help lend their support during the groundbreaking event in Orange County high school sports.
“I think people are going to look back on this day and say ‘I was there. That was an important first step and I was there.’” Burke said. “To me, there are these important events that have happened with hockey in Southern California – Wayne Gretzky getting traded here, the Ducks winning the Stanley Cup and I think this is right up in terms of 20, 30 years from now, people will say JSerra started it all with the Ducks.”
The league is being designed as an extension of the Ducks’ organizational goals of growing talent close to home. During the initial year, JSerra will consist of a Midget 16-Under independent high school team. The club will compete against other Southern California Amateur Hockey Association (SCAHA) teams and will play in hockey tournaments across the country, the first of which will be in Chicago
from September 12-14. Home games for the Ice Lions will take place at Anaheim Ice.
During Tuesday's kickoff event, the new JSerra program was outlined before Burke and Pronger shared their thoughts and memories of high school hockey with the audience.
“It’s nice to see the turnout and the way this program has slowly evolved and been setup," said Pronger, who told the crowd that he played two years of high school hockey. "It’s been a monumental day for the Ducks and for JSerra.”
|Two members of the JSerra Ice Lions debut the uniforms the team will wear during their inaugural season of play. |
Looking ahead to the future, the Ducks are seeking to make JSerra the start of a much bigger project. Following the Ice Lions inaugural campaign, the objective of the second year of the program is to have four high school teams involved to establish the first division of high school hockey in Orange County
. The goal for the third year is to expand the program to 10 teams that will compete solely against each other with the championship game(s) held at Honda Center.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Ice Lions head coach Rick Hutchinson said. “Whenever you start something from nothing and you see it come to fruition like we did today, especially after listening to Chris Pronger and Brian Burke talk about their experiences and their dedication to making it grow, it makes you realize that what we’re doing is real and there is an interest for it. I want to see California
hockey grow. I’m committed 100 percent.”
Added 16-year-old goaltender Collin Smith: “It’s interesting to be part of it. We’re making history. We’ve had a few practices. So far, it looks like we’re going to be pretty good.”
Along with expansion of the league, the Ducks are motivated to set up new rinks in the area in the coming years so that more kids can become involved in hockey. Currently, Orange County
has 15 rinks (both ice and roller) available for use. It is the desire of the Ducks to add between six and eight new sheets of ice in the next five years.
With Tuesday’s big announcement, each of these future goals for the Ducks is now one step close to becoming a reality.
“The Samuelis are determined to leave giant footprints on the hockey landscape and this is important step in that,” Burke said. “I think this is a pretty exciting day for hockey in Southern California