They didn’t win the Stanley Cup, but don’t tell these guys.
The East County Outlaws are the kings of the Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League.
The Outlaws (15-3 overall) reigned supreme in the league championship game on March 17 at Staples Center, defeating the Kern County Knights 1-0 for the Outlaws’ first Jim Fox Cup.
It was time to celebrate.
“A lot of the helmets went every which way,” said first-year head coach Scott Jones.
“After we went into the locker room, it was insane,” said right-wing Dylan Freed, a Simi Valley High junior in his third year with the Outlaws. “We were all cheering and kissing the trophy. It was like we won the NHL title.”
EJ Kaufman, an Oak Park senior goalie, was crucial in front of the net for the Outlaws, who made their first championship game appearance.
Kaufman, who came up with his second shutout of the season, said he didn’t let the grand stage get to him.
“I was trying to take it one save at a time,” he said. “It could obviously be kind of intimidating to play at the Staples Center for guys like us. We’re used to just playing at the (Simi Valley) Iceoplex. We had to treat it like it was any other game. Luckily, it paid off.”
Nathan Garcia, a Calabasas senior who lines up at right-wing, scored the Outlaws’ lone goal with four seconds remaining in second period. Spencer Cait, a senior at de Toledo High in West Hills, was credited with the assist.
“I just crashed the net, and Spencer found me right in front,” Garcia said. “All I had to do was tap it in. It was great to get that goal going into the third period because it gave us a lot of momentum.”
Kaufman said the Outlaws’ only focus in the final period was preserving the narrow advantage.
“We played a very safe defensive game in the third,” he said. “(The Knights) spent a lot of time in our zone, but we were very strong defensively.”
Teammates praised the goalie for keeping the Knights off the scoreboard.
“EJ Kaufman stood on his head and played amazing,” Garcia said.
“He saved us,” added Benjamin
Hyde, a Moorpark sophomore who also runs the 400- and 800-meter races for the Musketeer track and field team.
Kern County pulled its goalie with 90 seconds left in the third period, but Kaufman wasn’t going to let the victory get away.
Kaufman said he’s rewatched the final 30 seconds of the game numerous times since the victory.
“You could see everyone on my team glancing up at the clock,” said Kaufman, who plans on playing club hockey at Syracuse University next season. “We finally won and everyone threw off their helmets. I was swarmed by everyone else on my team. That was probably the happiest moment of my life.”
Congratulations to the East County Outlaws on becoming the LA Kings High School Hockey League champs! pic.twitter.com/8WqiHcXvrA
— LA Kings (@LAKings) March 18, 2018
The Outlaws said they were excited to play on the L.A. Kings’ home ice, but McKenna Cooper, a senior defender who attends Century Academy in Thousand Oaks, said it was initially overwhelming.
“At first I was taking it all in, like ‘This is where the Kings play,’” he said. “But then I was like, ‘We have a game to win here. I have to get my head straight.’”
Freed, the younger brother of former Outlaw Brandon Freed, now a San Diego State freshman, said the championship was a long time coming for the Outlaws.
“Our first year was a bit of a struggle,” he said. “The second year, we progressed as a team. This year, it all came together.”
The Outlaws managed to keep a high level of play despite a change to the coaching staff early this season. Former head coach Zach Margeson—who stays busy coaching multiple youth teams in the area—stepped down two games into the season. Jones, Margeson’s assistant the past two years, stepped in to lead the Outlaws.
Both coaches said they knew this team was special before the season started.
“Zach had a lot to do with picking the group,” Jones said. “He did a really good job.
“Our vision, when I took over the team was, ‘We’re going to skate at Staples this year.’ We got that into everybody’s mind that there was no reason we couldn’t do it.”
The season isn’t over for the Outlaws. East County will compete in the inaugural state tournament, which includes teams affiliated with the high school leagues of the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks.
The Outlaws begin round-robin play Friday. They’ll face the Kern County Knights, the Newbury Park Panthers and the St. Francis Lancers throughout the weekend at Ice Station Valencia.
Regardless of the results in the state tournament, this group of Outlaws will forever be immortalized for bringing the Jim Fox Cup to the Iceoplex.
“I was really lucky to be a part of this really strong team,” said Peter Lototsky, a junior at Rancho Campana High in Camarillo. Lototsky plays defense and forward.
“I’m always going to remember how much fun I had with this group of guys,” Cooper said. “I’ll never forget them.”
The Outlaws in a nutshell
The East County Outlaws bested the Kern County Knights 1-0 on March 17 at the Staples Center to claim the Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League championship.
Head coach • Scott Jones
Assistant coaches • Jordan Pugmire • Michael Mariano
Champs with local ties • Anthony Johnson, Oak Park High senior • EJ Kaufman, Oak Park senior • Jacob Landesberg, Calabasas junior • Nathan Garcia, Calabasas senior • Misha Derdiger, Calabasas sophomore • Zach Kantz, Agoura sophomore • McKenna Cooper, Century Academy of Thousand Oaks senior • Jake Shapiro, Opportunities For Learning Charter in Simi Valley junior • Dylan Freed, Simi Valley junior • Benjamin Hyde, Moorpark sophomore • Peter Lototsky, Rancho Campana in Camarillo junior