Beyond Tomorrow: Junior Sharks Labor Day Kickoff tournament

By DJ Powers

Earlier this month over the Labor Day weekend, one of California’s premiere Midget Major tournaments took place with the Junior Sharks Labor Day Kickoff at Sharks Ice San Jose. This year’s focus was on the 16AAA (top tier) group of mostly 1993 and 1994-born players. This year’s outstanding group featured seven teams -– six from California and one from Alaska.

The Junior Sharks, who play host to this tournament, featured an excellent group of kids. Two notables were ’94-born budding power forward Johan Sjoden and the skillful ‘93-born Ryan Zehnder. Both players have already caught the attention of scouts and recruiters.

“Sjoden is very physical but still has good hands and a scoring touch,” said head coach Justin Alonzo. “Zehnder is very skilled and smart. He’s not very physical but rarely gets beat defensively because he is so smart and he brings lots of offense.”

The Junior Sharks’ 18AAA team also featured a player that is well worth keeping an eye on in Nick Anderson. The sizable power forward who has signed to play in the WHL next season for the Medicine Hat Tigers enjoyed an outstanding tournament this year co-leading the Jr. Sharks 18AAA team with four points (one goal, three assists).

“Nick is a power forward who goes to the net hard,” said head coach Tony Zasowski. “He’s a rink rat that is always working on his game and works hard to make himself a player.”

The California Stars won the 16AAA group this year. The Stars, who are an up and coming program out of the city of Ontario, took the San Diego Junior Gulls to overtime in a thrilling 5-4 finish to claim the group championship. Budding two-way defenseman Trevor Ruiz was one of the standouts for the team. A rearguard with size and very good puck skills, the ’94-born Ruiz has already garnered attention from scouts and recruiters alike.

“Trevor definitely has the skills to do very well, but he’s just very young and will be tested,” head coach Rob O’Rourke said.

The San Diego Junior Gulls were perhaps the youngest team in this age group, made up primarily of 1994-born players. One player that made quite a splash at this year’s tournament was the dynamic ’94-born Kai Frankville, who has already gotten a ton of scouting notice. And according to Junior Gulls head coach Larry Cahn, Frankville has expressed an interest in going the collegiate route in the future.

“Kai is looking at possibly going to prep school next year,” said Cahn of Frankville’s future hockey path. “He’s going to be going the college route and not going Major (Junior). He would’ve been drafted this year if he wanted to go Major Junior, but he definitely wants to go the college route.”

Another notable player for San Diego was Steven Sherman. Sherman enjoyed an excellent tournament leading all 16AAA players in scoring with seven points (six goals, one assist).

“He’s a player that makes things happen and is always around the puck,” said Cahn.

The California Wave, one of the state’s top Midget Major programs out of the city of Artesia, fielded a very strong contender in this year’s tournament. Overall team speed was one of the standout qualities of this year’s Wave team. One notable player was forward Kyle Martins. His terrific hands and nice stick work were a treat to watch, particularly on his team-leading four goals.

One of the anomalies of this year’s tournament were the two California Heat entries. The Heat, a Tier hockey alliance between the Valencia Express and the West Valley Wolves, had both their 16AAA and AA teams making an appearance. Their AAA team (known as California Heat #2 in the tournament) featured two outstanding ’93-born forwards that have already garnered some scouting interest in speedy power forward Patrick Lee and the skilled speedster Wallace Zachary.

“Patrick is a big, strong kid that’s very, very fast for a kid his size,” said head coach John Devereaux. “ He has a tremendously heavy shot too.”

“Zach is fast and has great hands,” Devereaux said of Wallace. “He’s got a good knack for the net and is smart.”
 
The final team in the group was the Alaska Wolves. The Anchorage-based Wolves are relatively new to this tournament. Their two most notable players were defenseman Alex Carle and forward Aaron McInnis. Carle, the younger sibling of current NHLer Matt Carle and University of Denver student-assistant coach David Carle, was one of the most impressive players in the entire 16AAA group. His superb skating and terrific skill set could potentially garner him many offers from some of the NCAA’s top schools in the future should he decide to follow in his brothers’ footsteps.

“Alex is a great addition to our team,” head coach Dan Gasperlin said of Carle. “He’s a smooth and really great skater.”

McInnis is a player that combines great on-ice awareness with tremendous playmaking ability. And like Carle, he could also find himself on the NCAA scouting radar in the not-too-distant future.

“Aaron is an awesome little playmaker and stick-handles really well,” Gasperlin said of McInnis.