It’s a dynasty in the making. The Santa Barbara Royals won the inaugural championship of the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League in 2016, and last Saturday they successfully defended their title by defeating the Kern County Knights, 6-2, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
A timely blend of ingredients made the Royals, predominantly students from San Marcos High, a successful aggregation from the moment they took to the ice together.
When the Kings of the National Hockey League (NHL) established the prep league, now comprising 10 teams from the Greater L.A. Area, the finishing touches were being put on Goleta’s Ice in Paradise. It opened in the fall of 2015 with a regulation-size hockey rink that became the home of the Royals.
They found a coach in Steve Heinze, a veteran of 12 years in the NHL. “I was looking for a rink ever since I moved here,” said Heinze, who retired from the Kings in 2003. “I know a little bit about hockey, so I got involved.”
They have a core of players who, although they grew up next to the beach, had familial roots in hockey country. Chris Ewasiuk, the Royals’ captain, was introduced to the sport by his assistant coach and father, John Ewasiuk, a native of Canada. John Ewasiuk was on the board that raised money for Ice in Paradise, enabling his son to play in his hometown after spending years driving to rinks in Oxnard and Valencia.
Jack Johnson’s father came from the East Coast, a follower of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His older brother, Will Johnson, became an accomplished hockey player before Ice in Paradise and is now a sophomore on the University of Wisconsin team.
Will Hahn’s father is from Michigan. “He played pond hockey,” Hahn said. “My dad was one of six kids on a mailman’s budget — not much opportunity for organized hockey.”
Chris Ewasiuk, Jack Johnson, and Hahn all played pivotal roles in Santa Barbara’s two championships. The Royals have posted a 17-1 record this season. Their only loss was a 3-2 setback to Kern County, which they avenged on Saturday.
Johnson scored two goals, bringing his league-leading total to 41, and had four assists. Ewasiuk scored a goal on a shorthanded breakaway, which made the score 5-1, and he assisted on two other scores. The brothers McMullen — twins Jared (two goals) and Ryan (two assists) — also figured in the scoring. Hahn minded the nets, sharing goaltending duties with Matthew Park. Only nine shots got past Hahn, named the league’s top goalie, in 18 games.
Both Kern County goals in the final game came off power plays. The Royals play a physical brand of hockey, and their opponents’ best hope was to catch them shorthanded. “Some of our players get a little riled up,” Hahn said. “Refs have not been to kind to us this year. We have to stay out of the penalty box.”
When he removes his goalie equipment, Hahn is startlingly small at 5‘7” and 140 pounds. He is a senior at Santa Barbara High, the only player from San Marcos High’s rival. “I try to keep it low-key,” he said. When he let out a “Let’s go, Royals” after practice last week, he said, “That’s the third time I’ve ever said that in my life.” Johnson, a 6‘1”, 180-pound San Marcos junior, said Hahn makes up for his stature by being “hockey smart.”
The Royals’ celebration at the Staples Center — interrupted by a Zamboni that prepared the ice for the Kings-Vancouver Canucks game — was not the last time the team will be together. On March 18, they will go up against a championship team from the Anaheim Ducks High School League at The Rinks, the practice facility of the NHL’s Ducks. It will be a tough matchup. Orange County high schools have developed formidable hockey programs.
The Royals will lose seven seniors to graduation this year, but they hope to continue to be kings of the Kings League, with promising players coming up from their junior varsity team.
The basketball season came to a positive conclusion for the UCSB men’s team, which won two of its last four games, including its first road victory in the finale at Cal Poly, 57-44. The Gauchos finished with a 6-22 record and will miss out on this week’s Big West Tournament. … UCSB’s women continued to improve under second-year head coach Bonnie Henrickson. She took them from 2-27 before her arrival to 12 wins last year and 14 wins this year, heading into the conference tournament the fourth-seeded team. … Although derailed in the Golden State Athletic Conference semifinals, the Westmont men (24-7) expect to be invited to the NAIA Nationals at Kansas City, and the Warrior women (26-4), who played for the GSAC title Tuesday night, are a lock to be highly seeded in their national tournament in Billings, Montana. … Former UCSB star Alan Williams is one of the NBA’s hottest rookies in March. He recorded three consecutive double-doubles last week for the Phoenix Suns, which won all three games over Charlotte, Oklahoma City, and Boston. “Big Sauce” averaged 13.7 points and 13.3 rebounds. He also blocked three shots against the Thunder.
LITTLE BIG SHOTS
Carly Letendre and Gabriel Cordero of Santa Barbara were 80 percenters in the Elks Hoop Shoot regional contest at Las Vegas, both sinking 20 of 25 free throws. Letendre took second place by one shot in the girls’ 8-9 division, while Cordero took third in the boys’ 8-9 shootout. … The Santa Barbara Soccer Club (SBSC) has produced a number of boys’ championship teams, and this month the SBSC Girls 2005 White squad made the club proud by winning the Cal South State Cup. The 12-year-olds went 8-0-1 in nine games, outscored their opponents 15-1, and won a penalty-kick shootout 5-4 over the AV SC Storm from Apple Valley in the championship match.
GAME OF THE WEEK
3/9-3/10: Men’s College Tennis: Baylor and New Mexico at UCSB
The Gauchos have rolled to six wins this year but are still trying to break through against a top-25 team. They have lost to No. 11 UCLA, No. 7 Cal, and No. 21 Oregon, the latter two by scores of 4-3. Baylor comes to town Thursday with a No. 17 national ranking, giving the Gauchos another shot at a signature win. Their doubles team of Simon Freund and Morgan Mays is ranked No. 8 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. They’ll return to the court Friday against New Mexico, and their home stand will continue next Monday (3/13) against TCU and Wednesday (3/15) against Gonzaga. Thu.-Fri.: 1:30pm. Rec Center Courts, UCSB. Free. Call 893-UCSB (8272) or visit ucsbgauchos.com.
S.B. ATHLETIC ROUND TABLE ATHLETES OF THE WEEK
By Paul Wellman