One of the most exciting things to come out of the Anaheim Ducks’ grass roots efforts to grow the sport of hockey in our community is the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League.
Started in July of 2008 with one team (J Serra Catholic High School, San Juan Capistrano), the ADHSHL has now expanded to include 14 teams from 12 schools this season, both public and private, from all over Southern California.
A part of the Anaheim Ducks G.O.A.L. Hockey Program (Growth, Outreach and Awareness Locally), the league has seen substantial growth in a very short period of time. The success of the program includes future plans to continue that growth by adding three to four teams each year, expanding into the Inland Empire and San Diego County.
Each Saturday during the season, the stands at Anaheim Ice are filled with students and families, cheering on these kids as they play hockey for their high school. One of those schools is Los Alamitos High, which is a new addition to the league this year. And two teammates on their Junior Varsity roster are Megan Almond and Jennifer Nguyen.
As goaltender for the Griffins, senior Megan Almond’s path to becoming a hockey netminder was almost by accident. She got her start in roller hockey when she was eight years old and made the transition to the ice when she was 11. She filled in as a substitute goalie for one game and loved it so much she hasn’t left the net.
Prior to playing at the high school level, her experience was mainly in local in-house recreational leagues. A resident of Upland, Megan’s high school does not currently offer hockey, which makes her eligible to play on a high school team elsewhere. She ended up at Los Al.
“I love being a part of this,” says Almond. “It requires more of a commitment, but I don’t mind at all. I enjoy being here.”
In addition to minding the net for the Griffins, Megan also plays for the Pasadena Maple Leafs. So what draws her to want to be the last player standing between the puck and the goal?
“I like that it all comes down to the goalie,” says Almond. “I’ve had some hard losses, but I really love the pressure.”
Her teammate on defense, sophomore Jennifer Nguyen, only recently got her start in the sport. With a seven year background as a figure skater, Jennifer was introduced to hockey by her cousin a couple of years ago and has since traded in her figure skates for ice hockey skates.
Jennifer lives in Cypress, and just like Megan, the absence of a hockey team at her high school allows her to participate with Los Al. Now, as a member of the Anaheim Lady Ducks as well as the Griffins, Jennifer says the style of play on a boys team requires some adjustment on her part.
“There’s the checking and the game itself is a lot more aggressive. But I actually like it. I like the more aggressive style of play,” says Nguyen.
Their head coach, former Mighty Duck David Karpa, says that when it comes to coaching the girls, they are just part of the team.
“We (the coaching staff) don’t view them or treat them any different, and neither do the boys,” says Karpa. “To them, they are their teammates.”
And when asked what adjustments the girls needed to make coming into the league, Karpa says the speed of the game has been the biggest factor.
“The speed at this level has probably been the biggest challenge, especially for Jennifer,” says Karpa. “But she’s a good skater, so she’s been able to adapt well.”
One of the fastest growing sports nationally, Karpa says that seeing girls play in this league points to great signs of growth in women’s hockey, especially locally. Both Almond and Nguyen would love to continue playing the sport after high school, in a women’s league or possibly a Division III college.
There’s just something empowering to me about seeing girls like Megan and Jennifer lace ‘em up and take to the ice with the boys. When I asked them why they play hockey, they both had a hard time finding the words. They just flat out love the game. As a fan, I understand that, to a point. But for those who play, I imagine the grip the sport has on their hearts and souls is even more intense. I could see it in these girls.
In our corner of paradise amidst the sand and surf, the Anaheim Ducks have provided a unique opportunity for Megan, Jennifer and girls and boys all over SoCal to play the sport they love at the high school level. A program less than five years old has already made a tremendous impact in our community.
As mom to my little six-year-old hockey girl, I couldn’t help but let my mind fast forward several years while speaking with these girls and briefly picture the real possibility of my daughter playing hockey for her high school. She may decide long before then to give it all up. But if she doesn’t, the opportunity is there for her to play.
And that gets me excited for her and for the future of her sport.
For more information on the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, visit anaheimducksgoalhighschoolhockey.com