Move over, Mighty Ducks.
The Panthers rule the rink now.
Newbury Park High’s hockey team is putting on the latest great spectacle on ice, and fans don’t have to brave the drive to Orange County to see the game played at a high level.
The Panthers, who replaced the South County Aviators for the third season of the Los Angeles Kings High School Hockey League, are enjoying a memorable first season filled with hat tricks, glove saves and victories at Iceoplex Simi Valley.
“It’s pretty cool we were able to get all the guys from Newbury Park together to form something,” said senior center Beau Lawrence, a Newbury Park student who spent the past two seasons with the East County Outlaws. “It’s different to play with your peers you go to school with. The student section even came out for one game. It’s cool for people to see what you do.”
Newbury Park’s team also includes players from Agoura, Calabasas, Camarillo, Oaks Christian and Thousand Oaks high schools. If a team has nine or more players from one school, the team will assume that school’s name.
“We had a lot of really good games in the beginning of the season,” said Connor Rollo, a Camarillo senior with seven assists and two goals on the year. “You can tell the team’s developing really well.
“We know we’re a championship caliber team. We want to push for the championship.”
Newbury Park (8-5 overall) entered this weekend’s showdown against the El Segundo Strikers tied for third in the standings with fellow Iceoplex tenants, the East County Outlaws (8-2).
The Panthers, who have 20 varsity players and 18 junior varsity players, are skating closer to a championship game, which will take place March 17 at the Staples Center. The top six teams in the league qualify for the postseason.
“To go to the finals and play at the Staples Center would be pretty cool to do as a senior on Newbury Park’s inaugural hockey team,” said Lawrence, who leads the team with nine assists. “It’d be a big statement for the league. Hopefully that’d establish Newbury Park as a good team for years to come.”
First-year Panther head coach Jason Schwetz, who has coached roller and ice hockey for more than a decade, led the Aviators in the league’s first two seasons.
Ryan Doane, a Calabasas junior who suits up at left-wing, and Skye Sholty, an Agoura junior who plays right-wing, both played for the Aviators last season.
“We’re already having a better season,” Doane said.
Doane, who has three goals and two assists this year, played on the Coyote boys’ tennis team as a freshman and sophomore.
Sholty got his start on the ice four years ago. Now, there’s no place he’d rather be.
“It’s a treat for me to come here after school and hang out with my friends while doing something I like,” Sholty said.
James Sandberg, an Oaks Christian sophomore who formerly suited up for the Ventura Mariners, and Rollo, who played for the Valencia Flyers, are in their first season in the Kings’ league.
Sandberg, a right-wing who dreams of playing hockey at Boston College, said he’s impressed with the league’s quality of play.
“The high school hockey league hasn’t been around for too long, but it’s growing,” Sandberg said. “It’s a great experience. It’s a great opportunity for kids who are new to the sport or just want to try something new.”
Rollo, a 12-year veteran on the ice, plays forward. He said the talent level continues to rise.
“Two years ago it was kind of slow with lower-level kids,” Rollo said. “The skill level is getting higher as the younger kids are moving up. Instead of going to clubs, they’re playing high school. I think it’s good for the area. . . . I think it’s going to bring hockey to a bigger stage in Southern California.”
The Panthers aren’t solely obsessed with what happens on the ice.
After every Thursday practice, the Panthers watch game film with hot pizza in the warm room at the Iceoplex. Schwetz assigns two players to commentate the action, which usually keeps teammates entertained. The Cats are often reeling from laughter.
Schwetz has implemented a mentor program, which pairs veteran players with rookies. He said it helps build the camaraderie the team needs.
The Kings’ league continues to be a boon for the Panthers. Schwetz said the future of the sport in the Golden State has never been brighter.
“I look forward to the day that this area can put together entire high school teams,” he said. “It’s going to happen. I don’t know when, but not only is there a growing number of teams, but the skill level has grown tremendously from the first year of the league.”
Newbury Park fans can catch the Panthers in action in their final two regular season home games. The squad battles the Kern County Knights at 6 p.m. Feb. 24 before facing off against the Valencia Vikings at 4:15 p.m. March 3.
Newbury Park graduates nine seniors this spring.
“That’s going to be a hard loss,” Schwetz said, “but we have some great up-and-comers. As excited as I was about this season, I’m equally as excited for next season and what could potentially come about.
“We want to bring a championship banner back to this rink so when the fans are here, they can see that the high school hockey league is alive and well.”
Black Cat Attack on ice
The Newbury Park Panthers are in their inaugural season in the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League, which is in its third year of existence. Despite adopting one school’s name, players also hail from Agoura, Calabasas, Camarillo, Oaks Christian and Thousand Oaks.
Kyle Agnello, Newbury Park
Grant Belter, Newbury
Bryan Hooker, Newbury
Chris Keitel, Newbury
Hunter Hoskins, Newbury
Beau Lawrence, Newbury
Hudson Lawrence, Newbury
Roman Murray, Newbury
Ryan Murray, Newbury
Bentley Simcox, Newbury
Christian Miller, Agoura
Skye Sholty, Agoura
Ryan Doane, Calabasas
Anthony Hughes, Calabasas
Connor Rollo, Camarillo
James Sandberg, Oaks Christian
Jack Shea, Thousand Oaks
Dylan Adams, Century
Academy of Thousand Oaks