The Anaheim Jr. Ducks hockey club had three players selected in Phase II of the annual United States Hockey League (USHL) draft on May 5.
Forwards Jack Gates and Justin Dixson and defenseman Chad Sasaki were picked by teams in the nation’s top junior hockey league. All three were members of the Jr. Ducks’ Midget 16U AAA team that won a CAHA State title, a Pacific District championship and advanced to the USA Hockey National Championships this past season. Those accomplishments were firsts at the 16 AAA level for the club, as was the selection of three players by USHL teams.
“This is a great step in the right direction for the kids and for our organization,” said Alex Kim, who coached all three and serves as the Jr. Ducks Director of Player Personnel. “This trio deserves the opportunity.”
All three players are 1998 birth years, and all three already have made NCAA Division I commitments – Gates and Sasaki to Colorado College and Dixson to Massachusetts.
“Playing in the USHL will only help prepare them for college hockey,” said Kim, who was a USHL All-Star before playing Division I hockey at Miami and Colorado College. His long association with the league continues as its head Pacific District scout. “It’s not an easy league to play in.”
Gates, a play-making center from Oceanside, was the first Jr. Duck selected, going in the fourth round (62nd overall) to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Dixon, a high-scoring left wing from Sunnyvale, was chosen in the eighth round (129th overall) by the Tri-City Storm.
Sasaki, a nearly point-per-game defenseman, went in the 18th round (284th overall) to the Sioux Falls Stampede. “These guys are going to be examples for young Jr. Ducks players in the future,” said Kim, who along with Justin Morrison was part of the first group of Jr. Ducks to reach the USHL in 1995. With the drafting of players he coached, Kim has come full circle with his player personnel role for the Jr. Ducks. He and Justin Morrison were the first Jr. Ducks players to reach the USHL, in 1996.
“The creation of that position helps put these kids on the radar of scouts and coaches,” Kim said. “I was fortunate to be the person (team president) Art Trottier and (Director of Coaches) Craig Johnson looked upon to fill that hole.” All three will head to their respective teams’ main tryout camps in the next couple of months, and they should be joined by several of their teammates, according to Kim. “I don’t want other players to be discouraged,” Kim said. “The maturation process is different for everyone. Players like Jack Sitzman, Andre Ghantous and Patrick Choi will get main camp invites, as will Alexander Frosh and Josh Morrison. We have others, like Paul Selleck and Ryan Gil who didn’t get the recognition, but they’re good players, too.”
Now the real preparation begins. All of the 16 AAA players will discover the ante has been upped considerably when going from Midget hockey to Junior. “It’s a great league to be a part of,” Kim said. “You have opportunities to play against the best in the country. “At the same time there is a big responsibility as a player. You have to make sacrifices to elevate your game – physically, with your diet, with your social life. These players will have to dedicate themselves even more as they prepare for tryouts.”
The Jr. Ducks teammates who made so many strides this past season now have the opportunity to take another big step – for themselves and their club.