It’s been close to a year since the Los Angeles Kings assumed operations of the Los Angeles Jr. Kings organization, and if you ask anyone within the program they’ll tell you the transition has paid immediate dividends.
Thanks to the enhanced resources the NHL club has provided, both on and off the ice, along with added organizational support, including the hiring of Nick Vachon as the Jr. Kings’ general manager of hockey operations, the program finds itself in a prime position to elevate its status as a youth hockey powerhouse, both locally and beyond.
“The Kings’ leadership and guidance has really given our program a shot in the arm in a short amount of time, and that’s only going to become more pronounced this coming season,” said Vachon. “Overall, I really like where we’re headed as an organization.”
The Jr. Kings’ 2017-18 season unofficially got underway over the spring with three spirited tryout weekends that yielded 28 teams: seven at the Tier I (AAA) level; four at Tier II (AA); and 11 at the A/BB/B levels.
The club was also able to lift an impressive six Mite teams for the upcoming campaign: three each at the A and B levels.
“The (player) turnout at tryouts was outstanding and the compete level was extremely high, and to be able to architect so many teams - especially at the younger levels - is encouraging to say the least,” said Vachon.
“Now the goal is to continue to put these kids in a healthy learning environment in an effort to help them grow and develop, both on and off the ice, using our vast and ever-growing resources from the Kings and (El Segundo’s) Toyota Sports Center (the Jr. Kings’ home facility), along with the expertise and leadership of our coaching staffs.”
Administratively, the Jr. Kings - thanks in part to the efforts of the club’s director of finance, Helen Alex, and Christine Souto, the organization’s registrar and director of managers - also took a monumental step forward during tryouts thanks to their newly implemented registration platform, which comfortably mandated players to register online prior to tryouts, helping expedite the process.
The user-friendly registration procedure, along with the club’s decision to wean away from certain - and sometimes cumbersome - paperwork, was well received by families on a number of levels.
“That was without a doubt another vital component of our success during tryouts,” said Vachon. “The process ran smooth and seamless and we had a lot of great, selfless volunteers helping us pull everything together."
Behind the bench, the club will welcome seven new head coaches to the fold, among them Southern California native and former Jr. King Brett Beebe, who will lead one of the club’s Mite teams.
The other new head coaches include Brad Stuart (Pee Wee AA2), who played 16 seasons in the NHL, and Southern California natives John Kemp (Bantam AA1), Maik Tatavosian (Pee Wee AA1) and Mike Macy (Squirt A1).
Swedish-born Erik Lektorp (Bantam AA2) and Chad Demers (Pee Wee A1), who hails from North Dakota, will also debut as head coaches for the club.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We have one of the most experienced and connected coaching staffs in all of North America, and the coaches we brought in are only going to add legitimacy to our prestige on that front,” said Vachon. “They’re all respected teachers and all come from strong hockey backgrounds, both as players and mentors.”
And as the Jr. Kings set sail on Year 2 under the Kings’ watch, Vachon is nothing but excited for what’s in store for the club and its families in 2017-18.
“We have so much working in our favor, and I have little doubt this coming season will prove to be one of our best ever,” said Vachon. “The executive, administrative and coaching staffs we have in place are top-notch, and it’s all going to enrich our families’ experience within our club.
“We’re all working together as a team for the betterment of our kids, and we want that fact to resonate loud and clear to the entire hockey community.”