With Los Angeles Jr. Kings alumni continuing to dot the rosters of junior, college and professional teams across North America, goaltenders have been stealing a lot of the headlines lately.
Look no further than Dustin Wolf (pictured), who helped backstop the Jr. Kings’ 16U AAA team to a Pacific District championship and a berth to the USA Hockey National Championships in his final season with the club in 2016-17.
Since then, Wolf has evolved into one of the premier goaltenders in all of junior hockey with the Western Hockey League’s Everett Silvertips leading to his selection in last year’s NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames and a spot on this year’s U.S. National Junior Team which competed in the recent World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic (he backstopped the U.S. to a 6-3 win over Germany in the second game of the tournament).
Tommy Tartaglione, the Jr. Kings’ director of goaltending and goaltending coach for all of the program’s AAA teams, believes the club’s recent commitment to bolstering its goaltending core at all ages has made a telling difference.
“For a youth hockey program, the expanded resources we have when it comes to developing our goaltenders is second to none,” said Tartaglione, a former Jr. King who assumed his coaching role with the club in 2015 after playing junior and collegiately in Canada. “Whether it’s on the ice or watching video, there’s so much opportunity for our kids to learn and challenge themselves to become better, both mentally and physically.”
Other formidable alums include the brother duo of Tomas and Mattias Sholl, both of whom have stayed near the top of the goaltending charts, statistically, in their respective leagues the last couple of seasons.
The elder Tomas, who played his NCAA Division I hockey at Bowling Green State University prior to beginning his pro career, has been a constant force in the ECHL as a member of the Idaho Steelheads (he’s under contract with the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars), while Mattias, the other half of the Jr. Kings’ 16U AAA goaltending tandem in 2016-17, has proven himself as one of the North American Hockey League’s best with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
A handful of other goaltenders who donned Jr. Kings sweaters are still enjoying success, including Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks; Trevin Kozlowski, a junior at Army West Point; Gavin Nieto, a senior at Brown University; and younger brother Garrett Nieto, a freshman at Union College.
“Seeing our former players have success at higher levels is obviously exciting, and we have a lot of talented goaltenders in our club right now who are on that same trajectory,” said Tartaglione. “I think we’re just scratching the surface in terms of their potential.”
Among Tartaglione’s successful initiatives since assuming his role with the club were launching a pilot program with the Jr. Kings’ 2003 birth year group, which included the presence of a goalie coach during practices, as well as introducing weekly goalie clinics.
“Goalies can really improve their technique and knowledge of the position in private goalie lessons and camps, and in practice we can really improve their knowledge of game situations,” said Tartaglione.
“Over these last five years, I like to think we’ve changed the culture of goaltending in our club thanks to the support of our coaching staff which allows me to manipulate practice plans so they’re beneficial for our goalies, too. I truly believe we’ve really changed the way goalies and coaches approach goalie development in practice."
And Tartaglione is confident the best is yet to come for the current crop of masked men and women manning the crease for the Jr. Kings.
“No question we’ve had some amazing goalies come through our program, and I’m sure we’ll be sending more to the next level every year starting in 2020,” he said.