They shoot, they score!
Ice hockey has arrived in Santa Barbara. The Greater Santa Barbara Royals hockey team will begin play in the inaugural Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League at the end of this month.
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The Royals will play their home games at the new Ice in Paradise complex in Goleta. The home opener is scheduled for Oct.3 against the West Ranch Wildcats; the season opener is Saturday, Sept. 26 against the San Gabriel Valley Cougars. [EDITOR UPDATE: The Oct. 3 game has been moved to Oxnard because the ice is not ready at Ice in Paradise in Goleta. The true home opener is now TBD]
The team is comprised of 16 players (15 boys and 1 girl), 13 of whom attend San Marcos High. One player is from Santa Barbara High, one from Dos Pueblos and another from Oxnard.
Steve Heinze, a 13-year veteran of the National Hockey League, is the head coach. Heinze played nine seasons with his hometown Boston Bruins and finished his career with the Kings in 2003. He played for Team USA in the 1992 Olympic Games.
Heinze will guide the Royals through a 15-game regular season that runs through the first week of March. Playoffs will follow, with the championship game slated for Saturday, March 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the Kings.
The Royals will be battling for one of the league’s four playoff berths against the West Ranch High Wildcats, El Segundo Strikers, Kern County Knights, San Gabriel Valley Cougars, Santa Clarita Hockey Club and South County Aviators.
“It’s pretty exciting stuff,” said Heinze, who has been working with the team since mid-August.
For Santa Barbara player Chris Ewasiuk, the chance to compete in a league sponsored by a NHL team and play on true home ice is an absolute thrill.
“It’s great we’re a part of it,” he said. “Actually, just playing in Santa Barbara, in general, I’m really happy about that. … It’s a great relief to finally be playing at home.”
It’s been quite a sacrifice for the parents of the hockey players. They’d often made two to three trips a week to Oxnard for practices and games at the Channel Islands Ice Center.
SANTA BARBARA’S HOME SCHEDULE:
All home games at Ice in Paradise, 6985 Santa Felicia, Goleta
10/3: West Ranch Wildcats, 4:45 p.m.
10/17: Kern County Knights, 4:45 p.m.
10/24: East County Outlaws, 4:45 p.m.
11/7: San Gabriel Valley Cougars, 4:45 p.m.
11/21: East County Outlaws, 4:45 p.m.
12/12: Santa Clarita Hockey Club, 4:45 p.m.
1/16: South County Aviators, 4:45 p.m.
1/30: El Segundo Strikers, 4:45 p.m.
Ewasiuk said available ice time varied from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
A junior at San Marcos, Ewasiuk, 16, said he learned to ice skate when he was 2½ and started playing hockey at 9.
“My parents are Canadian, so they eased me into it at a young age,” he said.
He and several of his teammates started out playing in the roller hockey league at Earl Warren Showgrounds. They then started making the trips to Oxnard to play in the youth ice hockey leagues.
Ewasiuk said the familiarity of playing together in Oxnard will make a difference in the new league.
“A lot of us having been playing together in Oxnard for a long time, and we know each other from school,” Ewasiuk said. “It’s a great bunch of guys. With our team, we can do well and have a lot of fun along the way.”
Heinze is excited to work with the group.
“We have a strong base of kids,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers (for a full hockey program). We have 16 kids, which is enough. Going forward, we’d like to have 15-20 kids from each high school. Right now we’re a regional team. As the rink gets more and more popular, as we know and expect it will be, the goal is to grow the sport from the ground up, from learning to skate to youth leagues to high school.”
Heinze has been presently surprised by the quality of the play from the team.
“We got some guys who are legit. They can make plays, skate, pass, shoot, do all that stuff. It’s a good group. These guys are athletes and they play other sports, but hockey is their focus,” he said.
Eswaiuk noted that even the newer players are doing well.
“Skill-wise, everybody has lot of potential and can grow through the season, especially with Steve Heinze as our coach. He’s very knowledgeable about the game.”
The members of the Santa Barbara Royals are: Ben Essig, Daniel Solomon, Aiden Klock, Will Hahn, Christopher Ewasiuk, Jacob Watkins, Ryan McMullen, Jared McMullen, Collin Del Bonis, Harrison Del Bonis, Jack Johnson, Brady Rotundo, Brett Knowles, Emmett Rupert, Nicholas Poire and Annelle Mackintosh.