College Hockey Experience returns to TSC

It’s no secret the western part of the United States isn’t overrun with NCAA hockey programs.

Because of that, top youth players in California and their club coaches and administrators have to get creative in order to get exposure to the best college programs.

The Los Angeles Jr. Kings are doing just that, and on May 29 and from May 31-June 2 will host the 2014 Bauer College Hockey Experience at El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center.

The event is presented by the Jr. Kings in partnership with College Hockey, Inc., and designed to offer a small group of Southern California players unique access to some of the top NCAA Division I programs through on-ice practices, symposiums and games overseen by the college coaches.

“Last year’s camp was fantastic,” said Jr. Kings 16U AAA Major coach Louis Pacella, who spearheaded its launch five years ago with the support of USA Hockey (this is the second season it’s being orchestrated by the Jr. Kings). 

“The response was great and the college coaches were very impressed.  This year’s camp is going to be even better because we have a lot of schools coming and have included Bantams and something for the goalies. There’s a lot of interest in the camp, and there’s a lot of momentum.

“When I have college coaches telling me on the phone they want to start a pipeline to California, they want to start consistently committing California kids, that’s a huge, huge thing,” added Pacella. “No one could have envisioned that 3-5 years ago.”

The event will showcase four birth-year groups - 1997, 98, 99 and 2000/01 - and registration will open in early April.

The 97, 98 and 99 birth years will participate in afternoon and evening ice sessions on May 31, sandwiched around a dinner for the players and college coaches. The following two days will feature three-hour ice sessions during which the players will be evaluated by the college coaches.

The 2000/01s will participate in a 45-minute-to-an-hour on-ice session with the coaches, followed by a symposium, on May 29.

“We want to be as many places as we can, ensuring that players and parents are aware of how good college hockey is,” added Mike Snee, the executive director of College Hockey, Inc., which serves as an educational and advocacy organization working on behalf of the 59 American colleges and universities that sponsor Division I men’s hockey.

“We want to do this especially in the western United States, where the sport is growing tremendously from a participation standpoint, but there’s not yet a Division I school playing hockey.”

As of mid-March, 12 colleges were committed to attending this year’s College Hockey Experience for all four days: Boston College (Mike Ayers), Denver (David Lassonde), Ferris State (Drew Famulak), Harvard (Albie O'Connell), Michigan (Brian Wiseman), Minnesota (Grant Potulny), Minnesota State-Mankato (Todd Knott), New Hampshire (Scott Borek), Northeastern (Jerry Keefe), Vermont (Kevin Patrick), Western Michigan (Rob Facca) and Yale (Dan Muse).

This year’s event is scheduled a week before the Jr. Kings’ Tier I tryouts - timing Jr. Kings executive director Kelly Sorensen believes is important as it relates to showcasing the very best players in the area.

 “We want to make sure we’re taking the top talent from Southern California so that when the coaches come out here, they’re getting to see the depth we have at the Bantam and Midget levels,” said Sorensen.

Snee says the effort to connect top California players with the best colleges is worthwhile in terms of bridging the geographical disconnect.

“If you’re a young man growing up in California, especially in what we call a first-generation hockey family, there’s so much less awareness of college hockey than there might be in a traditional place like Minnesota or Michigan,” he said. “We’re here to help educate those families.”

Photo/Former Jr. Kings and Princeton University junior forward Tyler Maugeri