Jr. Kings value from exposure at Tier I nationals

Of the three Los Angeles Jr. Kings teams that competed at this year’s Tier I USA Hockey National Championships, none came home with a championship banner.

Not one even made it to the knockout round.

While some locally may consider the performance a disappointment, Brad Sholl, one of the original orchestrators of the rebirth of the Jr. Kings’ Tier I program who traveled to Green Bay, Wis., earlier this month to help rally the troops at the high-profile tournament, left overly impressed with the program - and the event - in more ways than one.

“Unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, you have no idea the level of competition and intensity that goes on there, and the unbelievable exposure (to junior, college and professional coaches and scouts),” said Sholl. “It just blew me away.

“With that said, we think it’s very important for the club to get there, for sure, because the amount of scouts that were at our games was unbelievable.”

The competition at Tier I nationals has undoubtedly escalated. The tournament has expanded from 12 to 16 teams, allowing at-large powerhouses to participate in turn making it increasing difficult to reach even the quarterfinals.

Wins and losses aside - all three teams proved competitive the entire week - what Sholl liked best? All of the Jr. Kings’ head coaches - Jack Bowkus (18U AAA), Louis Pacella (16U AAA Major) and Shawn Pitcher (Bantam Major) - along with their assistants, were proactively promoting their players.

“Everywhere you looked, our guys were up in the stands with coaches, talking with them more so than others; I didn’t see other Midget coaches representing their club communicating with the scouts like ours were,” said Sholl, general manager of El Segundo’s Toyota Sports Center, the Jr. Kings’ home facility.

“It reconfirmed to me that our coaches are 100 percent committed to promoting our players, so that was reassuring.”

And while winning a national title is the ultimate goal, Sholl is quick to put in perspective what the week should represent, especially for local clubs.

“Everybody wants to win a national championship, but the reality is it could be a tall order for any California club,” said Sholl, noting the dilution of AAA talent amongst programs, locally, compared to others around the country.

“That’s certainly not to say we won’t stop trying to build a national champion at each level, but each team needs one or two certain pieces to the puzzle in terms of players. You need four solid lines, solid defense and top-notch goaltending to win it all.

“You have (16U AAA national champion) Team Wisconsin, for example - high school players on individual teams that come together for nationals. You can question their chemistry, but when you’re that good and have the first line from everybody’s (high school) team, that’s what you’re up against.”

But make no mistake: Sholl, the father of Jr. Kings graduate Tomas, a freshman goaltender at Bowling Green State University, and Mattias, a goaltender who played on the Jr. Kings’ Tier I Bantam Minor team this past season under coach Jeff Turcotte, believes it’s a failure by the program’s own expectations if it doesn’t make it out of the Pacific District each and every year.

“And not that we’re just satisfied getting to nationals, but that’s a big deal to get there and play those teams in front of all those scouts,” he said. “With our coaches, of course they want to win a national championship, but I think they take more pride in moving their kids on. They certainly aren't in it just for their own egos."

And given their resumes and hockey acumen - all have experienced plenty of success advancing their players to higher levels of the game, whether it’s junior, college or pro, including the NHL - it’s clear they’re leaned on as reliable, educated sources.

“Our guys all have relationships with these (coaches and scouts); they’re not just meeting them for the first time,” said Sholl. “They’re contacts and resources for these guys and trust their hockey opinions.

“One day at the rink (in Green Bay) I witnessed one college coach tell one of our coaches right in front of me, ‘You go down there right now and tell him he has a full ride.’ I was like, ‘That’s what it’s all about.’”