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Paul Fregeau learned the game at Ice Station Valencia

Posted: August 4, 2013 9:55 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2013 9:55 p.m.
Paul Fregeau played nearly all of his youth hockey at Ice Station Valencia, where his father, John, has worked for more than a decade. Paul Fregeau played nearly all of his youth hockey at Ice Station Valencia, where his father, John, has worked for more than a decade.
Paul Fregeau played nearly all of his youth hockey at Ice Station Valencia, where his father, John, has worked for more than a decade.

At the age of 16, Paul Fregeau had a decision to make.

He had spent nearly his entire youth hockey career in Santa Clarita, a decision increasingly rare among youth hockey stars from the area hoping to make it big.

But now, Fregeau needed to decide if it was time to take the next big step in his hockey career.

That would mean moving to Bridgewater, Mass., leaving his family and friends behind, and finishing up his senior year of high school 3,000 miles away from home.

“When (my dad) first said, ‘Do you want to go?’ I said no at first,” he says. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to go.’ When you’re 16, my dad told me ‘you’ll be moving away.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ Who wants to do that? But I came around and said I wanted to leave and I wanted to experience it. And I went and it was perfect.”

Things were strange at first, though, for a West Coast born and raised teenager.

“They made fun of me because I had a different style. I wore Vans and tight jeans. They were like ‘What are you wearing?’” Fregeau says. “That was the biggest adjustment. Everybody around me was wearing different clothes, doing different things. They had different words for things.”

But there was one thing that always made him feel at home.

The ice.

“That was the one thing that was the same, that never changed. The ice was the only thing that kept us the same as home,” he says. “When you play, that reminds me of home. Everything else is completely different, but when you stepped on the ice, it’s the same as home. The only part that feels at home is playing hockey.”

Until he made the leap to Massachusetts, home was Ice Station Valencia.

Paul’s father, John Fregeau, has walked the halls of the Ice Station since before its official opening in 2000.

And by his side, or at least, on the ice, you could often find Paul.

“I just enjoy playing hockey. I wanted to keep playing and it kind of paid off. It was a completely beneficial,” Paul says of growing up around the Ice Station. “I got to skate whenever I wanted. He would say, ‘Let’s go to work, come skate and go home.’”

While other kids left for larger clubs outside of the Santa Clarita Valley, Paul spent the years playing at Ice Station Valencia — playing in Santa Clarita from the rink’s opening until he was 17 and moved to Bridgewater, where he finished out his final year of high school.

From an early age, Paul showed he had the makeup to go far in hockey.

“He started at our in-house program and then he transitioned to travel. I think he’s the only player ever from our in-house program to go from Pee Wee to Pee Wee-AA travel,” John says.

And he kept rising within the program, watching friends travel long distances to other clubs, all the while staying where he felt he belonged.

It’s common at Valencia Ice Station to see kids play from a young age and then leave for larger clubs around 12 years old. But John never felt that was necessary for Paul.

“From my perspective, there’s no need,” John says. “If he’s good enough and if he has the talent, he’ll be sought out in most circumstances.”

Instead, he kept his son in the SCV, with the exception of one season at the age of 14 when the local club didn’t have a team for his level.

“There are a lot of people in this valley that probably live just minutes away from (Ice Station Valencia) that feasibly there’s no reason why they wouldn’t play here,” John says. “But they elect (to leave) because they have this conception that going to a bigger club is a long-term benefit. And when it’s all said and done they’re a little bit misled.”

The road Paul chose might be the road less traveled, but it’s certainly worked for the now-20-year-old Santa Clarita Valley resident.

He was recently selected to the Des Moines Buccaneers roster, a member of the United State Hockey League, after a tryout that consisted of 185 participants.

The USHL has a history of turning out NCAA Division I and NHL caliber players with more than 250 USHL players from the 2011-12 season alone receiving scholarships to play NCAA Division I hockey, according to the league website.

John hopes Paul’s example can help people understand that Ice Station Valencia can develop children at the youth level as well as larger clubs in the Los Angeles area.

Eventually, though, everyone has to move up. And for Paul, that decision came when he left for Bridgewater.

He had an opportunity to play in the Eastern Hockey League, so he moved by himself to Massachusetts. There, he attended Bridgewater Raynham High School in Bridgewater, Mass., for his senior year.

“It was (difficult),” John says of sending Paul to Massachusetts. “My family sent me away when I was a little younger and it was tough, but the thing is he really wanted to do it and that’s one of the prerequisites.”

The level of competition was like nothing Paul had ever seen before.

A kid that was the one of the best Valencia had to offer now struggled to find his footing.

“When I got there I was like, ‘I’m a nobody again.’ I was probably one of the mediocre ones. I was the best from my town leaving to go play. But all these kids were the best in their towns coming to play. It was the best of the best. And every year you move up and it’s the best of those kids. You wonder how do you become the best?”

Paul kept fighting, though, spending three years in Bridgewater and setting himself up for a tryout with the Buccaneers.

With one year of junior hockey eligibility left — at 20 years old, he will be ineligible for one more season — the center and right wing took to the ice for a weeklong tryout.

One of 185 kids fighting for six spots, Paul doesn’t call it a long shot for him to make the team, but knows it’s rare for a 20-year-old to get the call.

So he did what he had always done — he scrapped and clawed to get the attention of the Buccaneer coaching staff.

“I didn’t count myself out. I said, ‘I have a shot, everybody has a shot.’ But it all came down to how I played and performed and stood out, and I tried to stand out as much as possible,” Paul says. “I scored a goal, fought a guy and had an assist all in my first game. That was a big step to get noticed.”

Paul knew he was doing well as the week went by — a week that consisted of a total of six games.

But a separated shoulder in the second to last game threatened to derail his dream.

So he kept it a secret, fighting through the pain to make it through one last game.

And when it was all over, he was given the good news that he had made the team.

“The first person I called and told was my dad,” he says, “because he was the one that meant most to me. He wanted me to make it and he would be the most excited.”

Now, Paul will head out to Des Moines for the upcoming United States Hockey League season, a year he hopes to parlay into a NCAA Division I scholarship.

“It’s been a goal of mine since I was 14, when some kid told me I couldn’t do it and I said I was going to do it,” Paul says. “It would mean a lot to me. It’s a big accomplishment. It’s not something anyone can do. To make it big time like that, you’re a rare form. There’s not too many kids that come from this valley, that come from Santa Clarita, and play Division I.”

One year from now, Paul Fregeau could be one of the few.


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