Influence of California teams evident in the PHL
When taking a look at the North American Prospects Hockey League (PHL) footprint over the past four years, there have been many constants. One of those is the state of California and the PHL teams contained within. In just three short seasons, the teams from California have played a major role in helping the league become what it is today, which is one of the premier grounds for development and exposure for youth hockey in the United States.
When the PHL was formed back in in 2009, the California Titans and the San Jose Jr. Sharks were two of the original members. A year later, the Orange County Hockey Club (now the Anaheim Jr. Ducks), joined the PHL. Now in 2012, not only have dozens of their former players been drafted and tendered by North American Hockey League (NAHL) and United States Hockey League (USHL) teams, but some now are receiving scholarships and are making an impact at to NCAA Division I schools.
One of those success stories is former California Titan and California native, Gabe Levin. Levin, now 20-years-old, is a true developmental ladder success story. The Marina del Ray, California native played for the California Titans of the PHL during the 2009-10 season. During that year, he ranked second in league scoring with 36 points 19 games and then followed that up by leading the Titans in points during the 2010 PHL Championship series as California won the PHL 18U Championship. He was tendered by the NAHL’s Fairbanks Ice Dogs where he went onto help the Ice Dogs to a Robertson Cup National Championship in 2011. Last season, Levin was second in NAHL scoring with 90 points and after his appearance in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in February, he committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for the University of Denver in the WCHA this season.
“I don’t think I would have had the opportunities to move onto the next level in the NAHL in Fairbanks and then the University of Denver in the NCAA if it weren’t for playing in the PHL and my experience with the Titans organization,” said Levin. In just their three short years in the PHL, the Titans have moved close to three dozen players to the next levels of hockey (NAHL or higher). The Titans have also set a standard of excellence on the ice as their 18U team has won the PHL Championship two out of the three years it has been awarded (2010, 2012). “The Titans are a great organization, with great coaching and it was a great league to develop in. Every event had scouts that would follow your progress as the season went along and I believe that was instrumental in me signing a tender in the NAHL and then playing the next season in Fairbanks.”
Another recent player success story came this last season from former Orange County 18U goaltender Arthur Brey. The Yorba Linda, California native played the past two seasons in the PHL and was named to the All-PHL 18U 1st team last season. This season, he finds himself playing for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, where he is currently of the top goaltenders in the USHL as a rookie. Besides his outstanding play and skill the past two seasons, one of the big advantages for Brey and the rest of the players in the PHL is the ability for their teams to consolidate their out-of-town travel, maximizing their exposure to scouts and reducing costs at the same time.
Jim Burcar, who is currently the head coach for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks 16U team, helped coach players like Brey the past two seasons as the former Director of Coaching for the Orange County Hockey Club, and said that the event structure of the PHL really helps the teams and players in all facets. “As a California-based team, you can schedule your local games around the existing events that we’ll have with the PHL,” said Burcar. “You build your calendar ahead of time, which a real asset. You’re not searching for tournaments to play in to get your players seen by scouts. Not only does the league’s unique format benefit the players and organizations, but it also helps streamline the scouting process for the junior clubs as well, because they always know there’s going to be PHL players available to look at each time they go to a league showcase event.”
Over the summer, the Anaheim Jr. Ducks program and the Orange County Hockey Club merged its two teams in the 18U and 16U divisions to compete as the Jr. Ducks for the 2012-13 season. “Merging our two Jr. Ducks teams in the 18U and 16U divisions with the Orange County Hockey Club has really strengthened our teams and given the program a stronger chance of success as we move forward,” said Vice President of THE RINKS Art Trottier. “We are excited to watch some of the best young hockey players in Southern California compete in the PHL and try to advance to the next levels of hockey.”
The final piece of the California puzzle lies in Silicon Valley with the San Jose Jr. Sharks. In their three years in the PHL, the Jr. Sharks have moved over two dozen players onto the next level. However, it doesn’t stop there for advancement. Longtime President and coach of the Jr. Sharks 18U and 16U teams, Tony Zasowski, also moved up the next levels of hockey this past summer, as he was named the new head coach and general manager of the NAHL’s Springfield (IL) Jr. Blues.
This past season, the Jr. Sharks 16U team won the PHL’s regular season title and in 2010-11 the 18U team did the same, along with winning the California Tier I AAA State Championship. “The PHL has been a great training ground as a coach and competition forces a coach to prepare his team to be at their best for every game,” said Zasowski. “In addition to the competition, it has fostered many great relationships with junior and college coaches, particularly in the NAHL. After coaching in the PHL the last three seasons, I was excited to be able to work with and compete against the coaches that I have been promoting my players to. It is also gratifying to see all of the Jr. Sharks alums competing and developing in the league.”
Jon Gustafson, general manager of Sharks Ice and chairman of the advisory board, said the process of growing the sport in the area involved a lot of input from people inside and outside the hockey department. “I couldn’t be happier with the program,” he said. “It was a long process, but the hockey board got parent input, and input from other organizations around the country.” The Jr. Sharks program has roughly 380 players, and the Sharks Ice in-house program has 500 more.
Not only are the participation numbers there, but the promotion part of the mission also is being achieved. That’s been aided by the Jr. Sharks 18U and 16U teams membership in the PHL ?“The PHL, its mission and footprint is a natural fit for the Jr. Sharks program,” Zasowski said. “Any time you see a Jr. Sharks team play, they have always been competitive and full of talent that could potentially move on to the next levels of hockey.”
The second PHL event of the 2012-13 season will take place from October 19-22 at Sharks Ice in San Jose, California, and will feature eight teams from the 18U division, eight teams from the 16U division and four teams competing in the Bantam Tournament Series (BTS). The PHL is comprised of six regular-season events leading up to its Championship Tournament Series in which the top teams at each level compete for a league championship. The PHL season concludes with its Top Prospects Tournament, which will be held in conjunction with the NAHL Robertson Cup Championship Tournament in May 2013.