Posted by: icingonthepond | January 14, 2014

Culver rink closing ending an era

News of the Culver City Ice Arena’s pending closing next month hit many of us who have played hockey at the facility over the years hard.

For all of its quirks (I once had a stick blade break off in the boards, which I  swear also swallowed up pucks from time to time), the rink is one of the few remaining links to the early days of hockey in Southern California.

Opened in 1962, it not only served as the LA Kings’ practice rink for many years, but it was part of GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association), a league that I write about in the upcoming hockey book, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds. It surprises many to discover that organized youth hockey existed in the state more than 50 years ago, but it did. And though the community was small, it was strong and often thriving. It produced NHL players, college stars and even an Olympic hockey player.

CCIA also was home of the Marina City Sharks, among other youth hockey clubs, an organization that produced several hockey pros, including Anaheim Ducks draft pick Brian Salcido and Matt Ford.

And no one who has ever played there will forget its hockey shop owners, Hans and Barbara Matzel.

A former rink owner told me several years back that this day would come. Not specifically, but that in general single-sheet rinks couldn’t make in California because operating costs have gotten too high. Multi-sheet facilities would be the only way for the numbers to make sense. The San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks have partially proven that theory wrong by taking over operation — and in some cases outright owning — several single-sheet rinks and running them from a centralized office.

I can’t count the number of games of pickup hockey I’ve played at lunchtime at Culver City over the years. I don’t remember the games specifically, though I remember dreading walking up the creaky stairs to the locker room in my gear some times. What I cherish are the long-lasting friendships I’ve made there.

I realize there are other newer rinks with better amenities around, and those are enjoyable to play at. But they can’t replace 52 years of history. At its highest levels, the game is nothing without its history — ever hear of the Stanley Cup? That tie to the history of the game is one reason the Winter Classic and Heritage Classic outdoor games are so popular.

The NHL is bringing the outdoor hockey experience to Dodger Stadium in less than two weeks; it’s unfortunate that one of the region’s indoor rinks will be readying to lock its doors at the same time.

I don’t know if I speak for any other hockey players, but it feels as if part of me is about to be lost.

Posted by: icingonthepond | December 3, 2013

NHL Stadium Series jerseys

This morning was the unveiling of the jerseys for the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks for next month’s Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium.

Taking a look at both, I think the Kings are the clear winners here. Their design mixes the crown (which I MUCH PREFER over their current home plate logo) with a gray as the dominant color (another nice touch) and black sleeves for a traditional look. LA is featured on the shoulder. My one beef is their website only posted a slow-loading unveiling video, not photos (at least not right away). You can check that out here. I would love to see the Kings turn this into their primary home/road jersey scheme and ditch the current models all together.

The Ducks went all in with the Orange while keeping the giant webbed-foot crest that inhabits their third jersey (which I think should become their primary one as their current home/road jerseys are among the drabbest in the league). The Ducks, who provided a photo gallery of their jersey, have OC on the shoulder and their current color scheme in stripes on the sleeves. It’s really bright but could make a nice third jersey in the future.

Nonetheless, both jerseys are winners and positive editions to the franchises’ jersey catalogs.

 

Posted by: icingonthepond | August 20, 2013

CAHA president’s balancing act

NHL.com published an interesting look at CAHA President Steve Laing over the weekend. As you can read here, the gist is how he has balanced an often-harrowing career in law enforcement with being a timekeeper for the Anaheim Ducks.

I’d have liked to seen more detail about his six years as CAHA’s president, because I hold the opinion that he has had a massive influence on the youth game in California, far beyond what many people realize. Two areas come to mind immediately.

Without Steve’s vision, we don’t have “pure” high school hockey in California, and we certainly don’t have it at the levels we do now (i.e. Santa Margarita winning a USA Hockey National Championship). Steve continued to champion that as an alternative (or addition) to travel hockey. High school hockey’s benefits are many: players play with their schoolmates, far less travel is required and the expenses tend to be significantly lower. At some schools, the JV programs serve as sort of an introduction to the sport for some players. (This fills a significant gap in youth hockey in California – there are plentiful programs for younger players who want to start, but what about ones in their teens?)

And high school hockey is only going to continue to grow. The Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League will announce the addition of several new schools in the coming days. Between varsity and JV programs, there could be at least 20 teams in the league this season.

Steve and the CAHA board (whose members also do not get near the recognition they deserve for their commitment to the sport and hard work on behalf of it) have championed measures to reduce hits to the head by increasing penalties for such hits. The transition was not always smooth (for players, coaches and refs), but greatly reducing opportunities for concussions is well worth the short-term growing pains.

Steve, like so many who work in our great game of hockey in California, is an example of someone who dedicates a lot of time to the sport while also working outside of it.

To him, and the many other coaches and administrators, I say, THANK YOU.

 

Posted by: icingonthepond | May 28, 2013

Game 7: NorCal vs. SoCal … 1969

After tonight’s Game 7 at Staples Center we will know which team from California will represent the state in the Western Conference Finals against an Original Six team (Chicago or Detroit).

And while the Kings-Sharks matchup is the first Game 7 between the franchises (who also met in the first round of the 2011 playoffs), it’s not the first Game 7 between the Kings and a Northern California NHL team.

That happened in April of 1969, when the Kings rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the California/Oakland Seals, 5-3 in Oakland in Game 7.

The Kings won that series despite being cumulatively outscored, 25-23. The key to LA’s clinching victory probably was its ability to kill penalties, including a two-man advantage during the first period.

“Our inability to score on those first period power plays, especially the one where we had a two-man advantage hurt badly,” Seals coach Fred Glover told the Los Angeles Times.

Lowell McDonald stole the puck from Norm Ferguson to score what proved to be the winning goal at 7:37 of the third period. McDonald earlier had set up two first-period goals by Ted Irvine (father of professional wrestler Chris Jericho).

The victory sent the Kings into a series against the St. Louis Blues, who interestingly enough are the team the current Kings defeated in the first round this season in six games. Last season’s Cup winner knocked out the Blues in five games in the second round.

Note: The historical research is part of my upcoming book on the history of hockey in California, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds.

Posted by: icingonthepond | April 17, 2013

NHL opportunities knocking

NHL.com (whether knowingly or not) highlighted two California hockey players who forever will be linked by their draft year (2010), their round (first) and their backgrounds playing for the now-defunct LA Hockey Club.

Forward Beau Bennett, taken 20th overall in ’10, is making a strong push to remain in the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins lineup, according the league’s website. Unfortunately, the story did not make the California connection, though plenty of other ones have.

NHL.com also weighed in on Emerson Etem‘s growing role with the Ducks, and make no mistake, it is growing. Interesting to read NHL Network analysts Kevin Weekes‘ take on working out with Etem when Etem was just 13. The accolades Etem receives for his work ethic are justified (as I’ve witnessed those workouts in Venice), as are the ones about his upbeat attitude.

That is something else Bennett and Etem, share – phenomenal, team-first attitudes and a truly grateful outlook for all the sport has given them (and undoubtedly will give them).

But they’ve got company from California this season.

In the past month, two defenseman have made their debuts and both will be profiled in the upcoming issue of California Rubber Magazine.

Matt Tennyson made his first NHL appearance on April 1 and has played three games, picking up two assists. Though he played just a few seasons for the San Jose Jr. Sharks growing up, his family now calls California home. Tennyson was part of a large group of players I affectionately termed the Cali-mazooans, who played for Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. That group included Brett Beebe, Garrett Haar, Chase Balisy, Dennis Brown, Robert Francis and J.J. Crew. Tennyson signed with the Sharks last spring and has spent most of this season in the AHL.

And lastly but not least is defenseman Chad Ruhwedel, whom I spoke to this week for a story. As with the other three, Ruhwedel was a delight to speak with. Unlike the other three, Ruhwedel jumped directly from college to the NHL through a whirlwind of events last week.

Consider that last Thursday (April 10), he was playing in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh against eventual champion Yale. Less than 36 hours later, the smooth-skating defenseman was on his way to Buffalo for a physical, to sign his contract, get his gear and play in an afternoon game, which the Sabres won.

All of this for a player who spent exactly one season playing AAA hockey in California (for the Jr. Kings) and only a handful playing AA growing up in San Diego county.

This is the first time the state has had four players make NHL debuts in a single season, to say nothing of the fact that 40 percent of said season was lost due to a lockout.

Congratulations to these four!

Posted by: icingonthepond | January 17, 2013

2013 California NHL Draft prospects, mid-term

NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term draft rankings were released this week, and there are four players with ties to California who were listed: Eric Comrie, Adam Erne, Merrick Madsen and Trevor Moore.

There also were a handful of players who, in my opinion, were overlooked. It doesn’t come as a great surprise to me because the CSS rankings tend to trend heavily toward CHL prospects, usually at the expense of U.S.-born players in the USHL. More on that later.

Here are the four that CSS ranked:

Eric Comrie is the second-ranked North American goaltending prospect, and it’s not hard to see why he’s generating buzz that he could be a first-round pick come June. The 6-foot, 175-pound Comrie has a 20-14-3 record, 2.62 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage for a young, middle of the pack Tri-City Americans team in the Western Hockey League. The former LA Select is tied for fourth in wins, is seventh in save percentage and eighth in gaa in the WHL.

Left wing Adam Erne is rated 13th among North American skaters and is enjoying an excellent season with Quebec of the QMJHL. Erne scored a goal in Wednesday night’s CHL Top Prospects game, and leads his team in scoring with 54 points (20 goals and 34 assists) in 43 games. He’s also plus-9. He played two seasons of Bantam hockey for the LA Selects.

Left wing Trevor Moore is the 108th-ranked North American skater, and is enjoying a fine season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. He leads the Storm in scoring, with 38 points (15-23) in 35 games and has been among the league’s top-10 or close to it in scoring all season. The 5-10, 175-pound Denver University commit also played for the LA Selects.

Merrick Madsen, who is playing for Proctor Academy in New Hampshire, checks in as the 34th-ranked North American goalie prospect. Madsen has committed to Harvard. Prior to going to prep school, he played for the California Heat, West Valley Wolves and Valencia Express. His mom is the Heat’s club president and his father coaches at the club.

The first three players on this list all were teammates for the Selects’ 95s, coached by Sandy Gasseau, Rick Kelly and Bill Comrie. A handful of their teammates also could gain some consideration, including USNTDP defenseman Scott Savage and Shattuck St. Mary’s center Max Becker. Savage has 5 points and is a plus-4 in 29 games for the national program, while Becker was third on SSM’s varsity with 48 points (12-36) through 38 games.

Three other prospects have generated a fair amount of buzz, and with good reason, yet none appear in the rankings, adding fuel to my belief of the CSS’ bias.

USNTDP goaltender Thatcher Demko has been very good this season, compiling a 13-5-2 record, 2.36 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in 22 starts. He’s been even better in international competitions. He helped Team USA win the Four Nations Cup in November, with a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 gaa. The former San Diego Jr. Gull and LA Jr. King stands 6-4, and it is a head scratcher to me why he isn’t ranked when every coach and scout I’ve spoken with has raved about the Boston College commit.

Another goaltender who has had a very good first half to his season is former Orange County Hockey Club netminder Artt Brey, who started 12-0 for Dubuque in the USHL and had a 16-3-2 records midway through the season. The win total and his 2.11 gaa were tied for second in the league, and his .907 save percentage was in the top 10. He’s a ’94, and that in part explains his omission.

And Moore’s Tri-City teammate Garrett Gamez also has generated some buzz. The 6-foot, 180-pound DU commit had 10 points (6-4) with a plus-3 mark in his first 27 games of junior. He played for LA Hockey and OC Hockey.

Posted by: icingonthepond | January 16, 2013

NHL debut candidates from California

They’re halfway through NHL training camps — already! It’s been just three days, and I see three candidates from California to possibly make their NHL debuts in the near future, and a fourth prospect with ties to the state to be in a team’s lineup come this weekend.

1. Wing Beau Bennett spent some time in Penguins practice on a line with All-Stars Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday. Bennett, a former LA Jr. King and LA Select who is in his first pro season after two NCAA seasons at Denver University, led Pittsburgh’s AHL club (Scranton-Wilkes Barre) in scoring with 24 points in 30 games. It’s a not a stretch at all that he will be in the Penguins’ lineup on opening night, and I have no doubt he will play several NHL games this season

2. Defenseman Matt Tennyson is in camp with the San Jose Sharks after a making a strong showing during his first pro season, ranking near the top of the Worcester (AHL) scoring list all season. Tennyson, who played two seasons for the Jr. Sharks before heading off to Juniors, spent the past three seasons at Western Michigan University with several other Californians before leaving school to sign with the Sharks as a free agent. If he doesn’t make the opening night roster he almost surely will be the first D-man called up.

3. Wing Emerson Etem also is in camp with the Anaheim Ducks. His skating and scoring touch give him a chance to be with the club at some point this season, though his first pro season, after an absolutely dominant WHL campaign a year ago, has been sluggish at times. The Ducks have three forward openings to fill with younger players and/or veteran free agents, and Etem (like Bennett a 2010 first-round pick) certainly is in the mix. The guess (emphasis on guess) is that he will play up at some point this year but not at the start of the season.

Honorable mention goes to Bennett’s DU teammate, Jason Zucker, who made his debut with the Minnesota Wild last season. He has been off to a strong start with the AHL Houston Aeros, leading them in scoring for much of the season. With the Wild perpetually searching for more offense, he’s in a good position to start the season with them. But Minnesota is loaded with prospects, and it might decide he needs a bit more seasoning in the A before bringing him up.

Posted by: icingonthepond | August 7, 2012

Kerdiles, Haar survive US WJC cuts

Forward Nic Kerdiles and defenseman Garrett Haar survived the first round of cuts Tuesday at the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y.

The former LA Selects were among four players with ties to California originally invited to the 45-man camp. Forward Adam Reid, also a former Select, was among Tuesday’s cuts, and forward Rocco Grimaldi, who played for the California Wave, did not attend the camp while he rehabs a knee injury.

Kerdiles (’94) was a second-round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in June’s NHL Entry Draft. The leading scorer for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U18 squad last season, he will begin his freshman season at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.

Haar (’93) emerged as a force on the blue line for Western Michigan University last season after being a seventh-round selection by the Washington Capitals in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Reid (’93) is entering his second season at Northeastern University, while Grimaldi (’93) — a second-round pick by the Florida Panthers in the 2011 Entry Draft — will be a redshirt freshman at North Dakota after injuries limited his true freshman season to four games.

 

Posted by: icingonthepond | July 4, 2012

Ducks prospects camp report

I had the opportunity Monday to catch up with all three of California’s prospects  who are participating in the Anaheim Ducks’ prospects camp, which concluded today at Anaheim Ice — Emerson Etem, Nic Kerdiles and Ryan Lasch.

All three played well in Monday’s scrimmage, which featured an uptempo pace throughout.

What’s interesting to me about the three is not only the different paths each took to get to this point, but the similarities in their most recent seasons.

Each of the three represented Team USA in international competition in 2012 — Etem at the World Junior Championships in January, Kerdiles at the World Under-18 Championships in April and Lasch at the World Championships in May.

Each either led his team or his league in goal scoring or points.

Etem, playing for the Medicine Hat Tigers, struck for a Western Hockey League-best 61 goals (and 50 in 50 games) while posting 107 points in 65 regular-season games. He led the Hat in scoring.

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Team Development Program in scoring with 48 points in 54 games, and he led them at the U18 Worlds, which he capped with a five-point game in a gold-medal blowout of Sweden.

Lasch put 61 points for the Lahti Penguins and led the Finnish Elite League in scoring. Lahti reached the league finals for the first time in its history.

How did they look against their peers? Pretty good.

All three were around the puck the entire scrimmage. Etem displayed an extra gear in his skating, allowing him to beat defenders one on one repeatedly. He consistently looked for the open man once in the zone. Kerdiles scored a goal and protected the puck very well, particularly along the wall, allowing his team to maintain possession in the zone. Lasch helped generate offensive chance after chance with his passing and shooting. His skating and passing were even better than I expected.

I came away with the impression that all three have a chance to play in Anaheim in the not-so-distant future. Etem and Lasch could contend for roster spots this fall. Both are physically mature, and Lasch already has two years of pro experience. Kerdiles is much closer than many might realize, and his poise with the puck was no less impressive, but Ducks director of player development Todd Marchant told me the club wants Kerdiles to continue to develop at the University of Wisconsin this season.

One other thing: each of the three is keenly aware of how important it would be for a California prospect to make a local team and play well.

Said Lasch: “It says something about the direction California hockey is going. There’s more players coming out of here with more skill. If that trend continues you’re going to see more progress (in the game) as the years go.”

Added Etem: “I don’t think it’s a coincidence the three of us are here. There is a lot of development going on in California, starting with the coaching and skill development year-round. A lot of rinks keep the ice in so we’re able to train all year.”

Kerdiles pointed to the Ducks’ Stanley Cup triumph in 2007 and the Kings’ matching one last month as harbingers of more good things in the grass-roots game. “I think California hockey is going to blossom.”

Marchant summed it up. “It’s nice to see local kids be recognized for the work they’ve put in and being drafted and playing professional hockey. It would be a great tribute to the organization and the players if at some point they’re playing on the big team.”

 

Posted by: icingonthepond | June 22, 2012

California’s 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospects

There are nine players with ties to California who have appeared on watch lists or ranked at various times this season by the NHL Central Scouting Service. Here is a closer look those draft prospects. An NHL amateur scout offered his assessment of selected prospects.

F Nic Kerdiles, 6-foot-2, 201-pounds, USNTDP

Kerdiles led the U.S. National Development Team Program in scoring this past season with 48 points in 54 games. That figure included team highs in goals (22), assists (26) and power-play goals (seven).  The former LA Select was ranked the 29th North American skater in NHL Central Scouting Service’s final pre-draft rankings, and he capped his USNTDP career by helping Team USA to its fourth consecutive gold medal in the World Under-18 Championships in the Czech Republic in late April. The University of Wisconsin-bound forward saved his best for last, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the 7-0 gold-medal triumph over Sweden. … Scout: “The first thing I noticed this season was he has gotten bigger and stronger. He’s always had good vision and offensive awareness with the puck. Now he has the body to go with that ability to create on the rush and off the wall. You saw his production at Worlds.”

F Miles Koules, 5-11, 189, USNTDP

The former LA Select appeared on the fall watch list and in both rankings, finishing as the 201st North American skater. … LA native had 16 points, including 12 assists in 42 games. … He recently de-committed to North Dakota to play for Medicine Hat of the WHL next season. … Scout: “Has big-time skill, gets pucks to people. Smart but needs to work on his strength and skating to separate himself from the pack.”

F Nik Olsson, 6-1, 194, USNTDP

Olsson (Escondido) had his season again ended early by injuries. He was rated 136th in the mid-term rankings. Five goals in 41 games. … Scout: “Tough for a team to pick him because of lack of games. Depending on what he does school-wise he might be drafted out of college.”

F Adam Reid, 6-4, 205, Northeastern (Hockey East)

Freshman from Chino Hills emerged as a top-notch penalty killer and energy player who chipped in nine points (including six goals) in 33 games. … Was 143rd in mid-term rankings in his second year of draft eligibility. … Scout: “He plays a north-south power game. A character player. If he’s not drafted, he could be a college free-agent target.”

Three more players were ranked on the fall watch list:

F Adam Chlapik, 6-0, 181, left shot, Muskegon (USHL)

The former LA Jr. King had 16 points in 43 USHL games with three clubs this season.

D Chris Buchanan, 6-1, 185, right shot, Alaska (NAHL)

The San Jose native and former Jr. Shark provided solid defense in 47 games for the Avalanche.

C Dennis Kravchenko, 5-9, 168, left shot, Cedar Rapids (USHL)

The former LA Select (Laguna Niguel) had 21 points in 34 games for the Roughriders after putting up 18 points in 30 games for Wichita Falls of the NAHL.  … A 2013 Vermont commit.

In addition, left wing Stefan Matteau, who played for the San Jose Jr. Sharks as a Mite, was rated 17th among North American skaters on the final rankings. The 6-2, 210-pounder also plays for the USNTDP.

And defenseman Josh Hanson, who played for the LA Selects Midget 16U AAA team in 2009-10, climbed to 102nd in the final rankings after being 149th at mid-term. The 6-2, 199-pounder had 13 assists for Portland of the WHL.

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