Los Angeles Jr. Kings Take The Crown At Champions League
For the first time ever, youth hockey has a world champion.
The 2022 Champions League hockey tournament hosted 10 teams from five different countries in Miami, Florida, over the holiday break. Five programs from the United States, two from Finland, and one representative from Sweden, Slovakia and Kazakhstan. After a six-day, 36-game event, this invite-only event concluded with Los Angeles Jr. Kings being crowned as world champions of the 2008 birth year.
They entered the international tournament ranked as the No. 2 team in the U.S., behind fellow Champions League participants, No. 1 Windy City Storm. Through five games of pool-play action, the Jr. Kings maintained a 4-1-0 record, with a 2-1 victory over the top-ranked Storm, as well as victories over Slovakia’s HK Dukla Trencin, Sweden’s Järved IF and Finland’s Kiekko Blues. The only loss to this point in the week was a 5-3 decision at the hands of No. 3-ranked Little Caesars.
With a 4-1-0 record of its own, Caesars would claim the top seed in the playoff rounds, as it held 13 points in the standings as well as the tie-breaker over Seacoast Performance Academy, who also had 13 points.
The Jr. Kings entered the playoff rounds as the No. 3-seed in the tournament; Tyus Sparks (seven) and Noah Davidson (six) led L.A. in scoring, four and five points behind front-runner Artur Yanchalouski of Jäved, with 11.
The duo continued their tear into the elimination rounds. Sparks posted multi-point games in both the quarterfinals against Dukla Trencin and semifinals against Seacoast, while Davidson added four more points to his total, including a goal and an assist in the semis.
Sasha Pitaev elevated his game between the pipes during the playoffs as well, allowing just six goals against in the three-game run. He was credited with wins over Dukla, Seacoast and then avenged his only loss of the tournament with a 5-2 win over Little Caesars in the championship.
In the championship, Caesars held onto a 2-1 lead at the halfway point and a slight 14-12 edge in shots. The second half, however, was all Jr. Kings as they out-shot their opponent 2-to-1. Karsten Hirasawa — who scored six of his eight points in the playoff rounds — scored a pair of goals in addition to tallies from Davidson and Sparks to complete the 5-2 comeback win and secure the world championship.
The inaugural Champions League hockey tournament is an invite-only event to ensure all participating teams meet competitive standards required to play on the international stage. Originally expecting more than 40 teams to be in attendance for the first-year event, the global climate around COVID-19 significantly impacted travel plans for prospective teams. Teams from Canada and Russia, as well as several others from Europe and Scandinavia faced challenges that would ultimately keep them from traveling to Florida.
Of the 36 tournament games, half would be decided by two goals or fewer. Kiekko Espoo defeated Seacoast. Seacoast defeated Windy City. Windy City defeated Dukla Trencin. Dukla Trencin defeated Järved. Järved defeated Little Caesars. Little Caesars defeated eventual champion Jr. Kings. The transitive property alone would suggest just how competitive games were, and how volatile results proved to be. Every team in the tournament experienced at least one loss, and the top six teams were separated by just four points in the standings.
Future plans for 2023 Champions League involves significant expansion, including more age groups (2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 currently in the works) as well as different site locations for each age group. Those host sites include fellow NHL cities like returning to Miami, Nashville and Denver, and also European locations where North American teams would get the opportunity to travel abroad.
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