Jr. Kings begin push to grow girls program

While the Los Angeles Jr. Kings organization has experienced plenty of success over the years developing and advancing its male players to higher levels of the game, it’s never put much emphasis on building a viable girls program.

That’s about to change, as leaders within the club, along with a handful of dedicated families, have come together to assemble an 8U tournament team this season.

All involved hope it’s the beginning of what eventually leads the Jr. Kings to icing girls tier teams with regularity and, further down the road, competing against the nation’s best.

“It takes a club commitment first, and then a group of people - coaches, managers and parents - to promote it and grow a pool of young girls and develop them co-ed first until we have enough to separate them from the boys,” said James Gasseau, the Jr. Kings’ director of coaches.

The 8U girls have wasted little time exercising their competitive spirit. With only one practice under its belt, the squad forged a third-place finish in the seven-team Mite Track II division at this year’s Jr. Kings-hosted Labor Day Festival, which was played earlier this month at El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center (TSC).

Members of the team include Lincoln Brown, Keirstyn Camiolo, Jaqueline Gasseau, Soleil Jamani, Emma Lin, Reese Negus, Destiny Reed, Savanna Stamp, Morgan Stickney, Caolin Thomason, Sydney Toumajian, Mackenzie Williams and Lily Winckler.

Megan Rivera serves as the team’s head coach, and Becki Winckler is the manager.

Rivera, who played her NCAA Division I hockey at Boston College, sees plenty of potential for a girls club to prosper in and around L.A.

“I think the most exciting part is that all of these families know they’re the trailblazers, so they’re all really committed to seeing this grow,” said Rivera. “They have a clear vision of the goal.”

“This is a great opportunity,” said Becki Winckler, noting that the Jr. Kings have also added a 10U girls team. “I’m so proud of these girls and I’m excited to watch them develop their skills over the next few years as this program grows.”

In addition to select tournaments, the 8U girls will engage in a variety of weekly development sessions, which are designed to not only improve their skills but also build camaraderie amongst the group.

“It’ll provide an opportunity to grow our pool, too, as we get new players involved,” said Gasseau. “It’s also important for the girls to bond and get to know each other; part of the experience is making new friends.”   

The biggest hurdle in getting the program off the ground, Gasseau says, is growing that stable of players. He estimates there are around 30 girls playing in-house at TSC and club on Jr. Kings’ boys teams.

Promoting the initiative and growing that lot to upwards of 75 in the 6-10U age range is paramount.

“That’s where we need to be for this to really build momentum,” Gasseau said.

A handful of elite girls have come through the Jr. Kings program playing on boys teams, most notably Cayla Barnes. A junior at New Hampshire’s New Hampton School this year, the Boston College recruit is also regularly selected to participate in international competition by USA Hockey.

For now, though, slowly and steadily architecting a tried-and-true all-girls program is the Jr. Kings’ mission.

“It’ll take some time, but it’ll definitely enhance the growth of girls hockey in our area,” said Gasseau.

Girls of all ages interested in playing for the Jr. Kings can contact Becki Winckler at rbwinckler@me.com.