By Lee Samuels
Las Vegas – It happened real quick on the ice. There was a whirl of colors and different jerseys in a scrimmage when suddenly three players wearing emerald green shirts took off from center ice and blasted high speed towards the shark waters of the enemy net.
“Oh, that’s the Top Line,” one of the parents said while peering through the cold rink glass.
It was quick, sudden, majestic – the puck was soon hammered deep into the net. The line of Mitchell Province, Steven Hoernicke and Logan Whitely then peeled off and returned to center ice.
While all of this happening, Anthony Greener – coach of the AA Las Vegas Jr Wranglers 18u hockey club – was watching from standing on the ice, near the south bench on Saturday night at the SoBe Ice Arena.
“Oh, they can score allright,” he said after practice. “They are going to score a lot of goals. I wouldn’t be surprised if each had 20 before Christmas.”
Province is an all-out force at left wing; Hoernicke takes care of the center spot and Whitely is a skilled right winger on a team which is loaded with top talent, size, ability and may be one of the best AA 18u teams here in years.
All of a sudden, like years ago when it happened, top players decided to stay at home to make it all work – like the Top Line, plus skilled skaters like Ian Davis, Jeremy Morgan, Kyro Kraemer, Tyler Anderson, Chris Wojowitz. All so good collectively, it’s scary good particuarly with goalie TJ Yocum, who has blossomed into a top tier level goalie and Bradyn Mensch who played for the AAA Las Vegas Storm last winter.
Hoernicke is an amazing story. Two years ago he thought he was going to play for an AAA hockey club in Dallas. The coach said he was in, Hoernicke signed all the papers, was prepared to move out when disaster struck. He got a telephone call that the team was packing it in, folding. Hoernicke was not going to go to Dallas.
Hoernicke, a top student who likes math and science, was stunned. He left the game on ice, played roller for a year, racked up a lot of goals. Then he saw what was happening to this team with all of the big players staying in town.
“Steven has great vision on the ice, great hands, he knows the game and we know he’s going to score goals,” Greener said.
Kraemer, a right wing, is another story. He is from Calgary. He played bantam hockey for the Jr Wranglers two years ago, then went to play for a season for the Jr Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C. He came back too to be with this club.
“Kyro scored about 25 goals last season,” his hockey dad was saying at the rinkboards.
There are more practices before the team goes out. “Offense is there, we need to do some work defensively,” is the way coach Greener sized it all up.
He was in a small coaching room with his goalie coach, Zach Whisman and hockey dad Joe Battalia whose son Justin plays with all his heart.
Greener wore his red UNLV jacket. He was quiet for a moment. He knows all about this rink and its ice and the big games. When he played for the Rebels every one of his shifts was like going into a war zone.
“Learned alot about coaching from Rob (Pallin), my junior coaches and every coach i ever had, actually,” he said. “So we do the flow drills in practices, keep the players moving, no standing around, get them working.”
He paused for a moment.
He said this is a real good team. He can feel it, like all the great coaches know about their clubs.
From the Blue Line – The Jr Wranglers 18u open against Santa Margarita H.S. next week at the Orange County Labor Day Tournament. Santa Margarito is the defending national high school champion…..There was a season-opening buzz from all of the hockey parents at the boards…The club will take 14 skaters, two goalies to the opening tournament…The Jr Wranglers 16u team includes Jake McKenna, the big strong skater who is a team leader as well and a strong goalie in Gage Roberts…The 16s are going off to the OC Labor Day Tournament as well….