Over the last 20 years, hockey has dramatically grown and flourished in the Golden State. The sport has sent numerous players to the NCAA as well as the WHL. The number of players choosing the collegiate route continues to increase, which in turn, is benefiting teams vying for National Championships each year. And that has been especially true this season. Of the five Californians among the Frozen Four participating teams, four are members of the two teams playing in Saturday night’s National Championship game.
Three of them play for Quinnipiac University – freshman forward Soren Jonzzon, and brothers Loren and Alex Barron, both of whom are defensemen. The fourth is Yale University senior netminder Nick Maricic.
Soren Jonzzon, who hails from Mountain View, is the only Northern California player among the four. He also holds the distinction of being the first player from the San Jose Junior Sharks to advance to the D-I National Championship game with his team.
“It’s pretty cool and I’m glad to be here, no doubt about that,” Jonzzon said about having the opportunity to play for a National Championship. “I’ll absolutely make Northern California proud.”
Being members of the ECAC, Quinnipiac and Yale know each other quite well. But two seniors have a familiarity with one another that goes way back to their youth hockey days in California.
Quinnipiac’s Loren Barron and Yale’s Nick Maricic are good friends off the ice, but are fierce competitors on the ice. During their youth hockey days, both faced one another regularly as members of two of California’s most storied programs. Barron played for the Los Angeles Junior Kings, while Maricic played for the California Wave. With their current teams set to face-off for college hockey’s ultimate prize, the friendly rivalry between them has also become a battle for bragging rights as well.
“Oh, we’ll definitely be battling for bragging rights!” Barron enthusiastically intoned. “I see Nick down in New Haven, we’ll have lunch together and talk about the game. I’m excited to be playing against Nick and Yale for the National Championship. We’ve played against each for so long and now we’re going to be playing for a National Championship on opposing teams. It’s great to see that.”
“Yeah, there will be bragging rights,” said Maricic. “I’m thrilled that one of us will get to wear the ring. I’m just hoping it’s me (Laughs). Loren and I have played against each other at almost every stage growing up. I’ve known Loren and Alex since I was ten years old. So this is incredible.”
The Barrons are one of two sets of brothers on Quinnipiac’s roster. It is also the first time that the two brothers have played together. Alex Barron, who played his youth hockey with the California Wave, took a slightly different path to college hockey from the one that older brother Loren did. But in the end, the two brothers would get their opportunity to play together at the collegiate level.
“I think the paths were by accident,” said Alex. “I didn’t expect to play for three junior teams. But coming to Quinnipiac was on purpose because I knew that Loren was here and I decided that I wanted to be here too. It’s rare to be able to get a chance to play with your brother and that was huge for us.”
All four players agree that having California well-represented on college hockey’s biggest stage is a testament to not only how much the sport has grown, but also to how far it has come in developing high-caliber players as well.
“I think it says a lot about California,” said Jonzzon. “I think it’s cool that in the eyes of the scouts and recruiters, it’s worth it to them to make the trip out to California because there’s a lot of talent coming out of there now. They’re also giving California the recognition that it deserves. And it shows too because of the amount of players from California that are playing college hockey right now. There are so many more compared to maybe five or ten years ago.”
“It says a lot about California and California hockey,” said Alex Barron. “Gretzky got traded to the LA Kings first and then the Ducks had come to town. Those things have helped to grow the interest in hockey. Now you’re seeing kids from California getting drafted and just how far it has come.”
“I think it’s a huge compliment to the coaches that have spent the time to develop us from a young age,” added Loren Barron. “I think it’s been kind of perfect timing with the way all the (NHL) teams came about here as a result of the big Gretzky trade. I also think it’s a huge compliment to the players too because of the time, dedication and sacrifices that we’ve all had to make to get to where we all are.”
“I think it’s particularly cool because California is such a small hockey community,” said Maricic. “Everyone in California, or at least in Southern California kind of all know each other because we’ve been either playing with or against each other for years.”
So what sort of advice would they give to the kids back home who aspire to reach the level that they’ve all reached?
“I would say be patient,” said Alex Barron. “Playing in California isn’t always the easiest route to college hockey or even to junior hockey. But as long as you love playing the game and are patient with it and enjoying it, what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.”
“I would say stay focused and just stick with it, even when it gets tough and it seems like you’re not going to make it,” added older brother Loren. “If you know that this is what you want to do, then you’ll get there eventually.”
“The first thing I would tell them is to have fun,” said Jonzzon. “If you worry too much about where you’re trying to get to, you can get caught up in it and get frustrated easily. So you just have to enjoy it, work hard and listen to your coaches. They’ll give the best advice because they have the best connections (in hockey) and they usually have your best interests. I’d also tell kids back home to just keep working hard on and off the ice because anything can happen.”
“One of the things that I would say is work real hard in school because if you have good grades and the better you are academically, the easier it’s going to be to get into a (good) program somewhere,” said Maricic. “It’s unquestionably worth it.”
Regardless of which team wins on Saturday night, just having the opportunity to play for a National Championship is an experience that the four Californians will cherish for the rest of their lives.