West Ranch High hockey defenseman Cameron Chan felt a sub-degree breeze graze his hair, but he could barely feel his feet.
He was standing in full hockey garb on a pond in rural Wisconsin – a far cry from the indoor rinks he’d been used to in California.
Chan was visiting the Midwest with the rest of his teammates for the Eden Prairie Border Battle, a Junior Single-A Minnesotan hockey tournament that took place from Jan. 5-8.
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The pond hockey was a bonus, and a highlight for many of the Wildcats.
“That was a dream come true,” said goalie Jack Titter. “Playing hockey in California, you don’t get that experience like they would up north.”
West Ranch finished 2-2-1 overall in the invitational tournament, with only one loss in regulation to Fort Williams of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
The tournament served as a measuring stick to see how the Wildcats, who compete in the LA Kings High School Hockey League, stack up against teams from Minnesota, South Dakota and Canada.
“Playing different teams from the state of hockey was an experience because they move the puck a lot faster and they play a lot faster game,” Chan said. “Us as a group, we hadn’t seen that as much out here.”
They were exposed to efficient systems and smooth team play from teams they’ve never seen before, aside from film sessions.
But the Cats were able to hold their own for the most part, and gained confidence as a result.
“We definitely know who we are and what we can do,” said goalie Tate Martishius. “We can fight against those bigger teams as a small California team. We know where we are and we know we’re up there.”
The team also had the chance to practice at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena.
The Wildcats had a two-hour practice on Minnesota’s ice held by Bill Butters, a hockey coach involved with the Gophers organization.
Afterward, the players and their parents were given a tour of the collegiate locker room and met Don Lucia, who has reached 12 NCAA tournaments in 17 years as head coach of the Golden Gophers.
“We saw the facility and how much effort and
money they put into it and how cool it is inside of an actual Division 1 college,” Chan said.
“I really saw what our futures would hold going there,” Martishius said. “That was where our biggest bonding experience was, at that rink. Bill Butters, the guy who ran it for us, he explained to us what you have to do to get to college and what you have to do to get to the higher levels.”
West Ranch plans to return to the tournament next year, although the decision will be made official after a parents meeting early next season.
Until then, they’ll be in Southern California fighting for a league championship as a more enlightened hockey team.
“Our King’s League, the teams we’re playing and our schedule is very competitive. I have felt that for a long time and believed that and I kind of wanted to see if it was true,” said Jason McNamara, president of West Ranch hockey.
“They’re good hockey teams (at the tournament), but we have a lot of good hockey teams right here. The level of competition we’re playing in southern California is what prepared us for this trip and it prepared us very, very well.”