Photo by Jeff Clester
Southern California and hockey are about as synonymous as sun bathing and Siberia. When Long Beach is mentioned in conversation, Snoop Dogg or 2nd Street are likely topics, not the adrenaline pumping, hard hitting action of the local high school ice hockey team.
The lack of recognition that sport receives was one of the main motivators that drove Chreryl Stanovich, team manager for the Long Beach Prep hockey team, had in mind when she helped create the squad two years ago.
“My oldest son went to Lakewood high and three of the boys at Lakewood won the state championship,” Stanovich said. “And when they back to school on Monday after winning the state championship there was nothing at the school about it. They wouldn’t even put it in the bulletin.”
With her youngest set to enter high school, Stanovich couldn’t face the prospect of two of her sons going unnoticed while playing the sport they loved. Something had to change. So in a grassroots effort that required the cooperation of several schools in the district, parents and the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, Stanovich helped to establish a high school ice hockey team in Long Beach.
Photo by Jason Ruiz
Long Beach Prep, which plays in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, pulls players from schools all around the city including Poly, Wilson, St. Anthony’s, Stanford and Lakewood high schools. In an attempt to be impartial, their logo is a black and yellow LB, a play off of the NHL’s Boston Bruins’ jersey, an idea conceived and designed by the players. Practices are held at Glacial Gardens in Lakewood and all games are played at the Anaheim Ice facility near Disneyland.
The Ducks, who recently purchased Glacial Gardens, help subsidize the cost of playing for all 12 teams in the league by donating equipment and paying for top-notch coaching which helps make the league as competitive as travel leagues which can be costly, both monetarily and in terms of time away from home. All other costs, including the $400 hourly ice fee for practices, come out of the dues required from each player. The Ducks aggressively promote the league and even hold college fairs where high school athletes are invited to gather and watch free college hockey games.
“It’s a lot of the things that they do like that that’s just above and beyond,” Stanovich said. “I can’t say enough about how the Ducks have grown this program. It’s amazing to me.”
Hal Kempfer, whose son, Sam, is a freshman forward on the team, said that the cost of playing travel hockey can reach upward of eight to ten thousand dollars a year and create economic barriers for entry to the sport. With the contributions from the Ducks and travel expenses nearly eliminated, he estimates that Sam playing for Long Beach Prep has cut those costs in half. It’s also reduced the headaches of driving long distances for practices and games.
Photo by Jason Ruiz
“There were times when I was doing work in Anaheim, I’d go home to pick up my son in rush-hour traffic, turn around and go back to pretty darn close where I just left,” Kempfer said about being a parent with a child in a travel league sport. “And you sit there and kind of look at it and say ‘this is really kind of a pain.’”
The elimination of the constant commuting was a just a bonus to the sense of community that Stanovich hoped to create when she began this project. Travel teams not only created gaps in family time but also disconnects between teammates because they often lived in different cities, sometimes even counties apart. Now, with Long Beach Prep, the team is comprised of classmates and kids from the same neighborhoods. And with no natural rivalries, the players have embraced the idea of so many schools coalescing to form one team.
“Well I think with a city like long beach, hockey isn’t a priority,” said 15-year-old Noah Belkin, a sophomore defensemen from Poly High. “So when you get so many schools together you get a lot more talent. You get a lot higher talent level because it’s not just one school.”
Although the team has struggled to a 3-10 record this year, much of which is attributed to the lack of a junior varsity team, forcing them to play younger and smaller players against larger, more experienced opponents, they have tasted success in the past. Last year, Long Beach Prep made it to the championship game which was held at the Honda Center before losing 4-2 to Damien High School. Despite their record, because every team in the league qualifies for the playoffs that start next month, they do have an outside shot of returning to the big stage.
Photo by Jeff Clester
“For the kids last year it was awesome,” Head Coach Rob O’Rourke said. “Some of those kids made memories that they’ll take to the grave most likely. When they scored a goal, heard the big buzzer and all the other stuff that goes along with playing at the Honda center. It’s a big deal.”
A bigger deal, and something Stanovich and other parents have been working on is getting the schools and the district to recognize the athletes. One day they’d like hockey to be a letter sport, so their kids can don letterman jackets just like students playing more traditional sports. Until then, Freshman Justin Campbell will enjoy the disbelief he gets from his classmates at Wilson High when they hear about the team.
"They’re all surprised. Nobody in my school plays hockey so when I tell them I play they’re like ‘what’s hockey? You play hockey?‘” Campbell said with a smile. “It’s a really big surprise to them but it also makes me feel really special at the same time because not everyone does it.”