By Kyle Shohara
It was a day unlike any other at THE RINKS – Anaheim ICE, where the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League’s top division, Varsity 1, officially got its season underway.
Three games were on the docket, including the day’s first contest, Servite (Anaheim) vs. Santa Margarita, followed by JSerra (San Juan Capistrano) vs. Lutheran (Orange) and Edison (Huntington Beach) vs. Damien (La Verne).
The atmosphere inside Anaheim ICE was reminiscent of what Ducks fans are used to inside Honda Center. Wild Wing, the Power Players and in-game host Kent Walls pumped up the crowd with giveaways and trivia, while Ducks PA announcer Phil Hulett manned the microphone for all in-game announcements. Players were introduced individually, much like the Ducks on opening night.
And to kickstart “Hockey Day in Southern California,” current Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy and the recently retired Teemu Selanne made their way to center ice for a ceremonial puck drop prior to the day’s first game. Cheers erupted from the capacity crowd on hand for the game, which had no idea Selanne was making a surprise appearance. Selanne has ties to Santa Margarita, as his son, Eemil, is a forward for the Eagles.
“It’s so much fun,” said Selanne, who wore Eagles blue while watching his son play. “I just sit down, watch the game and I’m happy. Any time you get the chance to watch your kids play, it’s a great thing. The whole high school league is so great now. With 41 teams now, that’s just awesome.”
Indeed, the league has grown leaps and bounds since its inception on July 1, 2008. At that time, JSerra Catholic High School served as its charter member. Santa Margarita Catholic High was added in 2009 and joined by Servite High, Damien High and Lutheran High School of Orange County in 2010-11. The ADHSHL increased to 11 teams in 2011-12, 14 teams in 2012-13, 28 teams in 2013-14 and 41 teams in 2014-15. As the league continues to grow, the Ducks will continue to provide financial support for each team involved in the program.
The 44-year-old Selanne says he never envisioned this league to grow as much as it did in such a short amount of time. “It’s hard to believe it’s only been five years,” he said. “The Ducks have done a great job, and I’m very proud of them. It’s great to see more schools involved in hockey in this program.”
For Lovejoy, being on hand for this event brought back memories from when he played high school hockey in his native New Hampshire. “High school hockey was some of the best times of my life,” he said. “I’m still best friends with many of the guys that I played with 10 or 15 years ago.
“But this league, here, the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, doesn’t really resemble the high school hockey I played. They have announcers here, a sound system, and the Anaheim Ducks backing the whole league. The Ducks have taken this to another level, and this can only be great for the sport of hockey in Southern California.”
BEHIND THE BENCH
Leading the Santa Margarita Eagles behind the bench is former NHL forward and U.S. Olympian Craig Johnson. A veteran of 557 career NHL games, including a brief stint with Anaheim in 2003-04, Johnson’s experience helped guide the Eagles to a high school national championship in 2013.
The 42-year-old native of St. Paul, Minnesota, says what the Ducks did today (providing an NHL-style atmosphere) and what they continue to do to grow the game, has been tremendous. “The kids loved it,” he said. “The Ducks did a great job with this. We appreciate all the love they’ve given us.
“As a coach, and as someone who grew up in Minnesota, to see how far high school hockey has come, and to see how special it has become, is really neat for the kids. And as a father, for my son to get this experience has been good for him, too.”
Though it was all business on the ice, many of the players today took a few moments to soak in sights and sounds. One of those players was Santa Margarita defenseman Jake Rosenbaum.
Rosenbaum has been in the ADHSHL since he was an eighth grader playing for his JV squad.
“It was nice,” he said. “This is what we work for. It’s great having all the fans out there, and seeing the Ducks players. It was a fun experience.”
Rosenbaum was also a member of the 2013 national championship squad, and says the growth of the league is a sight to behold. “It’s really good to see how far it’s come. I never expected it to get up to 40 teams in the league. This is really amazing.
“Everybody here is pretty big Ducks fans. We watch the games. So whenever you hit the back of the net and hear that goal horn and goal song, that’s something else.”
MORE ON THE ADHSHL
The Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League added 13 new teams and increased to five divisions for the 2014-15 season, including the newly-created Western Prep Hockey League. Forty-one teams from 27 schools are participating this season in the ADHSHL, which began play on Friday, September 5th at THE RINKS – Anaheim ICE. The Western Prep Hockey League features three California schools and teams hailing from Phoenix, Arizona, Colorado Springs, Colorado and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
The ADHSHL expanded to five divisions in 2014-15, including the aforementioned Western Prep Hockey League, Varsity Division 1, Varsity Division 2, Junior Varsity Division A and the newly-created Junior Varsity Division B. The ADHSHL’s top division, Varsity 1, grew by two teams with the additions of Damien High School and Edison High School (from Varsity 2). The JV division, which sported 13 teams last season, has grown to 21 over Division A (15) and Division B (6). New teams include Brophy College Prep (Phoenix), Cathedral Catholic (Hamilton), Fountain Valley (Colorado Springs) in the Western Prep Hockey League; Conejo Valley (Southeastern Ventura County/Northwestern Los Angeles County), Upland Christian Academy in Varsity Division 2; Beckman (Irvine), Cal Desert (Palm Springs), Capistrano United, St. John Bosco (Bellflower) and Torrance Unified in Junior Varsity Division A; and Los Alamitos High School, Torrance Unified and Villa Park High School in Junior Varsity Division B.
For the latest information, scores and highlights, head to ADHSHL.com.