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Hockey: Local prospects begin camp

Valencia-based Flyers help players draw attention of colleges, pros

Posted: July 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Golden Valley graduate Josh Escoe takes part in a drill during the Valencia Flyers’ tryout camp on Friday at Ice Station Valencia.

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They don’t get to play under the label of “professional hockey,” but that’s not such a bad thing.

Players who make the cut to play for the Valencia Flyers this season will have exposure to college scouts while being able to maintain a high level of competition.

They’ll be able to travel all around the West Coast to face opponents in the Western States Hockey League.

Most of all, the players can finally put youth hockey in their rear-view mirror.

That process all began this weekend, when the Valencia Flyers held a three-day prospect camp at Ice Station Valencia to help determine future players.

“It’s definitely a lot faster-paced,” said Blake Rossi, one of the players trying out. “It’s a lot more competitive.”

Rossi, a Valencia High School senior-to-be, was comparing the camp to some of the hockey clubs he’s played for growing up. The Flyers play at a whole new level.

Specifically, they play in Tier III Junior A, which is a pay-to-play level a few steps below semi-pro leagues that feed into NHL teams.

Junior hockey gives players from ages 16 to 20 the advantage of maintaining college eligibility since they aren’t paid as they would be in higher Tier leagues.

The Flyers play a 46-game schedule in the 16-team WSHL, which was formed in 1994. Their schedule includes road trips to Dallas, Boise, Idaho and numerous cities within California.

For hockey players in the Santa Clarita Valley, this is the best ticket in town.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Flyers head coach Jocelyn Langlois. “And there’s different names around, but this is the highest level of hockey in Santa Clarita.”

Langlois would know, as he has been heavily involved with youth hockey in the area for the past 10 years.

He was named head coach on Wednesday after the sudden, unexpected departure of his predecessor Eric LeMarque in June. Though the prospect camp has come on unusually short notice for Langlois, he already has a leg up due to his knowledge of incoming local players.

Roughly half the players trying out come from the SCV.

“The hockey community here is definitely growing,” said Ben Newberry, who will be a senior at Hart High this fall. “Even some of my friends hear about it and come out and watch me, and then they want to play.”

Newberry and Rossi are both first-timers at the tryout, which began Friday and involved about 25 players. Through various walkthrough drills and scrimmages, the coaching staff eventually narrowed their focus to the most capable players, who will be invited back for the team’s main camp at the end of August.

Some of the players on last year’s Flyers team weren’t able to make the this weekend’s camp, but returners like Josh Escoe showed up to get some face time with the new coach.

“I like it because it’s the best way for him to get a starting look at you,” said Escoe, a recent Golden Valley graduate.

Escoe played a handful of games last year as a forward and hopes to become a more regular contributor this season.

Like most of the players vying for a position on the team, Escoe has played hockey on travel teams and club teams since a very young age.

Playing on a Junior team like the Flyers gives players like Escoe a fair shake at gaining recognition from NCAA teams, which don’t exist on the West Coast.

“The purpose of Junior hockey is to prepare, to level up the players for college,” Langlois said.

Valencia has already seen former players get offered Division III college scholarships and earn spots on higher-level teams.

As the reputation of the league and the local awareness grows, so has the talent pool.

“You always want to put the best team on the ice, but at the end of the day, we want some local kids,” Langlois said.

And the 2011-12 Flyers will no doubt include plenty of aspiring hockey players from around the SCV.

The final roster cuts will be made after the tryout camp in August, and the regular season runs from late September through March.

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