In just a few months since the Ducks officially launched THE RINKS program, the three-facility rink development program is already making considerable strides. Those gains will soon be on full display in, of all places, Varese, Italy.
That is where the 2009 World Inline Hockey Championship will take place beginning June 28. And several players and coaches from THE RINKS (Corona Inline, Huntington Beach Inline and Anaheim ICE) will play large roles for USA squads in the three divisions at the tournament – Under-18, Women’s and Men’s.
“Southern California is going to be a major factor on all three major teams at the World Championships,” said Under-18 head coach Ken Murchison, who also manages the inline facilities of THE RINKS program. “That is something special.”
Murchison spoke from the Philadelphia airport Thursday morning, from where he and the USA teams departed for Italy.
Three players based out of Corona Inline are on Murchison’s Under-18 roster – forward KC Groon and defensemen Josh Winters and Joey Doran. The coach spoke highly of that trio and their importance to the team in the upcoming competition. “Those three kids are going to bring a lot to the team,” Murchison said. “We’ll announce our captains once we’re in Italy, but Joey Doran is going to be an elite candidate to be one of them. He’s probably our most skilled player on the team. KC Groon will be a top-4 forward. He brings a lot of skill, desire and intensity to the floor. Josh Winters will be in our top-4 defensemen. He’s just a very steady presence on the defensive side and doesn’t make mistakes very often.”
Hockey was engrained in Murchison while growing up in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. His playing career took him to Canadian junior hockey, collegiate hockey, in the ECHL and with the Anaheim Bullfrogs inline hockey team, who played home games at Honda Center. Since his playing days, Murchison has spent a key figure in the growth of the sport throughout Southern California. He now gets his first chance to guide a team on the international level, an opportunity he is relishing.
“It’s a unique opportunity for me,” said Murchison of coaching USA’s Under-18 team, which opens in Group A (along with Mexico, Germany, Australia and France) in the 10-team tournament being held June 28-July. “I’m really looking forward to it and the challenges that will be there. It’s actually going to be a lot of fun.”
Along with the head coach and three players from the Under-18 team, THE RINKS will have a strong representation on the Women’s and Men’s teams in Italy. Ariane Yokoyama and Kourtney Kunichika, both based out of Huntington Beach Inline, are on the USA Women’s roster and their head coach is Jeff Prime, the Youth Hockey Director at the Huntington Beach facility.
On the men’s side, two players from THE RINKS are among the USA players – Michael Urbano (the Adult Hockey Director at Huntington Beach) and Josh Laricchia. The Women’s tournament consists of eight teams and will also be held June 28-July 4. Men’s action featuring 16 teams will then take over July 5-11.
“I think the competition is going to be very tight,” said Murchison. “I expect the level to be very good. USA and Canada used to go to this thing and dominate, but these other countries have really closed the gap. It’s also going to give me an idea of what is going on in other parts of the world with roller hockey and how it’s developing.”
Murchison lauded the Ducks for embracing roller hockey along with the ice product through THE RINKS program, which the team officially launched in a ceremony at Corona Inline on February 16 with Bobby Ryan (an inline player as a youth), Teemu Selanne, Chris Pronger and Rob Niedermayer among those in attendance.
“I really believe the Ducks are going to play a big part,” Murchison said. “To have an NHL team get involved with inline hockey, it’s really created a lot of awareness throughout the country and internationally. I think it’s definitely going in the right direction. I feel we’re into a re-birth with roller hockey. I think the future is bright. Hopefully at some point, it would be nice to host the Worlds at one of our rinks down the road.”
For more information on the Rinks program, visit www.The-Rinks.com. All three locations are now registering youth and adult players for their hockey programs.