May drafts yield positive results for Jr. Kings

May drafts yield positive results for Jr. Kings

May is unquestionably the best month of the year for guys like Louis Pacella, Jack Bowkus and Igor Nikulin. While the months prior routinely feature plenty of excitement at the SCAHA playoffs, districts and nationals, the coaches and leadership of the L.A. Jr. Kings know that winning is only half the equation.

Helping kids at the Bantam and Midget levels advance to play junior hockey is a big part of what programs like the Jr. Kings do, and few have done it as well as them over the years.

The Jr. Kings had 12 players selected earlier this month in the United States Hockey League draft, the USHL futures draft and the Western Hockey League draft.

“It’s a great opportunity for the players and their families to be rewarded for all their hard work they’ve put into their hockey over the years,” said Kelly Sorensen, the Jr. Kings’ Executive Director. “This allows us to continue to cement our reputation as the premier Tier Elite hockey program on the west coast.”

From the Jr. Kings’ Midget 18U AAA team, coached by Bowkus, Taylor Maruya (Phase II ninth round, Lincoln Stars) and Zachary Dixon (Phase II 29th round, Des Moines Buccaneers) were drafted into the USHL.

The club’s 16U AAA1 team, coached by Pacella, had five players drafted. Nicky Rivera (Phase II fifth round, Omaha Lancers) and Keanu Yamamoto (Phase II, ninth round, Des Moines Buccaneers) were selected in the USHL draft. Robbie Jackson (third round, Chicago Steel), Evan Weinger (seventh round, Sioux City Musketeers) and Alec Mehr (eighth round, Tri-City Storm) were picked in the USHL futures draft.

From the Jr. Kings’ Bantam AAA1 team, under the direction of Igor Nikulin, five players were drafted. Kailer Yamamoto (Phase II, 26th round, Fargo Force) and Logan McColgan (Phase II 27th round, Fargo Force) went in the USHL draft, while Connor Nobach (fifth round, Everett Silvertips), Kailer Yamamoto (fifth round, Spokane Chiefs) and Dylan Strahan (sixth round, Prince George Cougars) were selected by WHL teams.

“The human capital that we have as far as coaches is where our club shines,” Sorensen said. “At the Tier I level, we have coaches that have nurtured relationships with the NCAA, the Canadian Hockey League, the USHL, North American Hockey League and WHL. These guys are so integrated into these developmental leagues that it affords our families the opportunities to have their kids exposed to these teams and leagues.”

Pacella certainly wouldn’t disagree. A 15-year veteran coaching top-level youth hockey, he has also worked with the U.S. national team and with top prospects for the L.A. Kings. He is in contact with a broad network of junior hockey coaches throughout the year, advertising the virtues of each of his players. During the week of the draft, he said, the calls, texts and emails from those coaches come in rapid fire for hours on end.

“For anybody who coaches at the 16AAA level, our job is not just about the kids’ development and getting them to perform on the ice - we have to be advocates for our kids and do our best to open doors for them and help them move on,” Pacella said. “It’s a year-long process.”

While other youth hockey programs in California produce plenty of talent for the next level, the Jr. Kings feel they do it as well as anybody on a yearly basis.

“It’s fantastic for the organization,” Bowkus said. “It shows that the development of the kids is going in the right direction. I think winning goes with development. There’s a reason why kids are getting drafted - they’re in the best Midget league in the country.”

“This year’s draft was solid, but it’s been consistent for a number of years,” Pacella said. “If you look at last year’s team, six kids who played Midget hockey with the Jr. Kings were playing full-time in the USHL this year. That’s a staggering number.”

By Greg Ball, writer for California Rubber Magazine