Pro hockey’s return should help rekindle interest in East County youth programs

0
24
WEBZach_Cummings_goalie1.jpg

The Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League will host San Diego HockeyFest on Feb. 22 at the Valley View Casino Center to celebrate the return of professional hockey to the San Diego region.

The Ducks are one of five NHL franchises that have relocated their AAA development clubs to the West Coast to form a new Pacific Division in the American Hockey League.

The Ducks join the Los Angeles Kings (Ontario), San Jose Sharks (San Jose), Edmonton Oilers (Bakersfield) and Calgary Flames (Stockton) to plant AHL franchises in California.

The Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League will host San Diego HockeyFest on Feb. 22 at the Valley View Casino Center to celebrate the return of professional hockey to the San Diego region.

The Ducks are one of five NHL franchises that have relocated their AAA development clubs to the West Coast to form a new Pacific Division in the American Hockey League.

The Ducks join the Los Angeles Kings (Ontario), San Jose Sharks (San Jose), Edmonton Oilers (Bakersfield) and Calgary Flames (Stockton) to plant AHL franchises in California.

The new AHL Pacific Division, which is envisioned to facilitate short-distance call-ups to the parent western NHL clubs, will begin play in October when the puck drops on the 2015-16 season.

The San Diego franchise, which will be relocated from Norfolk, Va., will serve as the Ducks’ top minor league affiliate. Games will be played at the Valley View Casino Center, which first opened in 1966 to much fanfare with the original San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League.

“All our best your players will be playing here (in San Diego),” Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said during a media luncheon Jan. 30 at the Valley View Casino Center by the NHL club to make the formal announcement that pro hockey was returning to the region.

The last minor-pro team to play in the region was the San Diego Gulls of the ECHL. The Gulls suspended operations following the 2005-06 season after 11 seasons of operations to become the city’s longest-tenured franchise in the region’s long hockey history that first began with the San Diego Skyhawks of the Pacific Coast Hockey League in 1944-45.

The ECHL Gulls had their genesis in the West Coast Hockey League in 1995. The Gulls were members of the WCHL for eight seasons, winning a total of five Taylor Cup championships, including the league’s first three championship titles, while making six trips to the Taylor Cup Finals overall.  

The announcement has obviously sent a buzz through the local hockey community.

“Having a pro team here will create all kinds of enthusiasm for the sport,” explained Joe Noris, who serves as director of the Skate San Diego roller rink in El Cajon. “People get the bug and want their kids to play. A lot of good things are going to happen.”

Specifically, Noris said the new team’s arrival should spur the re-birth of both ice and inline hockey in the East County region.

At one time, the La Mesa House of Ice, as well as three roller hockey facilities, served as a home base for a number of youth programs.

In fact, East County teams captured the first four championship titles of the pioneering San Diego County High School Roller Hockey Conference in the mid- to-late 1990s. The Monte Vista Monarchs emerged as the conference’s first bona-fide dynasty with three consecutive championships.

However, the closure of the aforementioned rinks has left just one East County roller hockey team operating in the new millennium: the West Hills High School Wolf Pack.

Noris said he sees that changing with the arrival of the new AHL team.

“It will benefit all hockey, both inline and ice,” the former pro player said. “It puts the sport back on the map. It gets people aware and excited. It’s good stuff.”

Enthusiasm is already high. The new San Diego pro team received 1,200 season ticket deposits in the first week after announcing its move to the area.

HockeyFest

The free family-friendly HockeyFest, which will run from noon to 3 p.m., will include the unveiling of the AHL club’s name and logo along with a full “Hockey Spot” experience that takes place prior to Ducks Sunday home games at the Honda Center. The “Hockey Spot” includes street hockey, a Ducks Jump Castle (bounce house), photo booth and hardest shot challenge.

HockeyFest will also feature autographs sessions by local hockey legends, appearances by the Ducks Street Team and Power Players, live music from San Diego-based bands, hot dogs and soda and a T-shirt (for the first 1,000 fans) with the club’s name and logo — all complimentary.

Additional food and drinks will be available for purchase.

The new AHL team has stated it wants to spread its wings in its new surroundings and get involved directly with the region’s youth hockey community – its future fan base.

“We want to embrace the entire youth hockey community, both inline hockey and ice hockey,” said Ari Segal, who has been named the San Diego AHL team’s director of business operations. “We’re committed to growth.”

Noris, who played for both the original WHL Gulls and their immediate successors, the San Diego Mariners of the World Hockey Association, applauds the new team’s hands-on philosophy.

“They want to reach out to the local rinks like the parent team (Anaheim Ducks) has done in Orange County,” Noris said.

On a roll

Good things, in particular, appear to be happening at the El Cajon rink.

Noris said plans are to expand the rink’s travel team youth program to include teams at the 18U, 16U and 14U levels.

Meanwhile, the Tron Hosers elite adult men’s team has faced off the 2014-15 season in the semi-pro American Inline Hockey League with a perfect 6-0 start. The Hosers swept the Irvine Vanquish in a pair of Pacific South Division games played Jan. 25 at Skate San Diego.

The Hosers followed that up by going 4-0 at last weekend’s jamboree tournament in Irvine with victories against the Ripon Savage, East Bay Jawz and Bay City Lions, all teams from the Pacific North Division.

“It’s been great — the Hosers are on a roll,” gushed Noris, who serves as the elite team’s head coach. “You look at all the angles and ask how long did it take us to win six games last year? We’re a much improved team.”

Noris points to a much improved defense as leading the way for the team’s early season success.

“We only have one returner on defense from last year — Morgan Capps — we’ve added players like Ryan Takacs, Eric Obinger and Nick Pogu, whose sister plays on Team USA,” Noris said. “From a defensive standpoint, we’re much more solid. If someone can’t play, David Baldwin, can move from offense to defense. He’s currently tied for second in team scoring.”

Baldwin’s older brother Charles (aka Chucky Slick of YouTube fame) leads the Hosers in team scoring with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in five games. Both David Baldwin and Billy Metcalf are tied for second in team scoring with 10 points in five games.

New addition Max Balaban follows in third place in team scoring with nine points.

Zach Cummings (Foothills Christian High School alumnus) has guided the Hosers to all six wins between the pipes.

“He’s a much improved goaltender,” Noris said. “A year of competition at this level (in 2013-14) has given him a lot of confidence.”

Noris said the emphasis for the rest of the season will be qualifying for the AIHL playoffs. “It’s always the goal, first and foremost, to qualify for the playoffs,” Noris said. “If you don’t make the playoffs, you don’t have a chance. At the elite level, we’re a much improved team but our division is tough. We’re going to improve but so will the other teams.”

The Hosers are also fielding two Minor Division teams this season, and both are off to promising starts as well. The Hosers Black team is 4-3-1 on the season while the Hosers Blue team is 3-4-1.

“Both teams have played well,” Noris assessed. “They’re improving. We’ve added a lot of new players. It was a great thing for the players last weekend – they had a blast playing, hanging out together at the rink.”

Doug Irwin and Ben Nixon are sharing goaltending duties for the Hosers Black team while Darius Newhall and Jake Pribble are handling goaltending duties for the Hosers Black team.

Eddy DeBus has been an offensive force thus far for the Hosers Black squad.

For more information on the new AHL team, visit the website at www.sandiegoahl.com. For more information on the Hosers, visit the website at www.skatesandiego.net

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here