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Ducks League preview, predictions for 2016-17
Taking things “day by day” is a cliché throughout sports. In hockey, it might be the number one cliché and is sometimes, if not always, broken down to taking a game “shift by shift.”
The teams in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League’s Division 1 are no different in that regard. Each coach said it.
What the coaches also said, and what makes them different from the others, is they’re all focused on the same lofty goal: a USA Hockey Nationals title.
“Our end goal is a national championship,” said Joe Adams, in his first year as head coach for Orange Lutheran. “We make them (the players) aware of what we’re out here for. We take things day by day, but they know our long-term plan.”
Orange Lutheran is the two-time defending state champions, but it has failed to win a game in its last two trips to Nationals. The Lancers look poised to repeat as state champs and finally have a breakthrough at Nationals.
Santa Margarita finished a point behind Orange Lutheran in the ADHSHL standings last season and lost to the Lancers in the ADHSHL and state playoffs. After a year of growth, the Eagles have their sights set on knocking off OLu and a return to Nationals.
“Our success has been there (at Nationals),” Santa Margarita coach Craig Johnson said. “In respect to, can we compete with the teams at the top, we’ve reached the top, and no one else has.”
Santa Margarita is the only county team to have played in the Nationals final, winning the national championship in 2013 and being the runner-up in 2015.
The league’s other teams don’t appear to be in a position to challenge Santa Margarita and Orange Lutheran this season. JSerra lost a lot of key players from its successful senior-laden team a year ago. Bellarmine of San Jose and the league’s newcomer, Tahoe Hockey Academy, face daunting travel challenges.
So it’s expected that Orange Lutheran and Santa Margarita will be circling each other all season, fighting for the ADHSHL and a state title and battle-testing themselves for a run at Nationals.
“It’s an exiting challenge to have the target on our backs,” Adams said. “We already have a perspective on it after doing it last season. We have experience with it.”
Orange Lutheran is a skilled team with a lot of speed that imposes its style on the game’s pace, as it did in a dominant season-opening win over JSerra on Sept. 10.
“We’re a hard-working team,” Adams said. “We have some good skill and chemistry. The team meshes really well on and off the ice, even the transfers.”
Adams is in his first season as coach after taking over for his father Dan, who is now an assistant coach for the team.
Santa Margarita has plenty of skill, too, but like the JSerra team that challenged OLu last year, the Eagles play gritty and straightforward.
“We don’t dump. We don’t chase,” Johnson said. “We try to possess pucks. We try to win that possession battle every time. If you want to do things, you have to have the puck.”
It’s a long road to Nationals in Cleveland on March 30, but Orange Lutheran and Santa Margarita are focused on the steps to complete the journey.
ADHSHL DIVISION 1 PREVIEW
OCVarsity predicts how the teams will finish.
1. Orange Lutheran: The Lancers lose dynamic top-scorer Jacob Heller, but there is no shortage of skill on a fast, deep team anchored by Conner Taherian in net. OLu is poised for a third consecutive state title.
2. Santa Margarita: The Eagles were just off Orange Lutheran’s pace last season, but a year of growth will boost them. The Eagles also have the perfect style of play, bolstered by big defenseman Greg Bennet, to push and overcome the Lancers in either top competition. It will be tight at the top.
3. JSerra: The Lions lose a bunch from last year’s senior-laden group that was the winningest team in school history. JSerra is always a hard-working group for Coach Mike Perkins and will have great play in net from Landon Pavlisin, but the Lions will undoubtedly take a step back.
4. Bellarmine of San Jose: The Bells get some help with additional home games in San Jose, but they still don’t completely match up with the league’s top teams and the travel is killer.
5. Tahoe Hockey Academy: It is hard to know how competitive the ADHSHL’s new addition will be this season. It has been said the team recruited well and their director worked with JSerra in its initial years. Tahoe is hard to gauge, but newness and travel will hurt.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chase Young, F, Orange Lutheran; Zach Pires, F, Orange Lutheran; Ryan Sanchez, D, Orange Lutheran; Conner Taherian, G, Orange Lutheran; Greg Bennett, D, Santa Margarita; Jonathan Skule, F, Santa Margarita; Jekabs Bisnieks, F, Santa Margarita; Leevi Selanne, F, Santa Margarita; Blake Reed, F, JSerra; Jacob Brunelle, F/D JSerra; Will Griswold, D, JSerra; Landon Pavlisin, G, JSerra
DIVISION 2 PREVIEW
St. John Bosco dominated Division 3 last year and moves up to Division 2 this season. Capistrano United dominated Division 2 a year ago and comes back just as strong. Damien of La Verne will be the other top team. Also in the division are Villa Park, Corona-Norco, Cathedral Catholic, Classical Academy, La Jolla Country Day and Poway.
DIVISION 3 PREVIEW
The division grew so large - 14 teams - in the offseason that it was split into two conferences: Coast View and Crescent. Coast View houses all the O.C. teams, including inaugural High School Freeway Face-off champion Edison. Beckman, Los Alamitos, Mater Dei, Servite, Woodbridge and Santa Margarita’s second team will compete in the Coast View Conference along with Long Beach. In the Crescent are Long Beach Prep, Bishop Amat, Chino Valley, Upland Christian, Pacific Ridge, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.