2014-07-18 / Sports

Training with the Kings

Patrick Newell, who has skated for years at Iceoplex, spends week at NHL hockey team’s development camp for prospects
By Eliav Appelbaum


FACEOFF—Patrick Newell, who practices at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley, participated in the Los Angeles Kings development camp last week. Newell will play ice hockey at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. 
Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers FACEOFF—Patrick Newell, who practices at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley, participated in the Los Angeles Kings development camp last week. Newell will play ice hockey at St. Cloud State in Minnesota. Photos by RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers In a quiet suburban community, a hockey puck sails from a backyard into a neighbor’s front lawn across the street.

It’s a familiar scene in the Conejo Valley, eh?

The California dream has transformed from prospecting gold in 1849 to becoming a Silicon Valley tech titan in 2009 . . . to playing pro hockey in the NHL.

Patrick Newell, 18, was invited to the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings’ development camp last week at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo. Newell, a Thousand Oaks native who attended Oak Park High, was one of 24 players training at the Kings development camp for unsigned draft picks and nonroster invites.

“It was a great experience,” Newell said. “It was my first experience with anything involving the NHL, and it was a lot of fun.”

Newell, who will graduate from high school this week through an online school, will suit up for St. Cloud State in 2015.

Last week, he spent five days and nights devouring hockey manna at the El Segundo facility.

He couldn’t divulge details of specific drills or extrapolate on the composition of the Kings’ burgeoning empire, but the experience revealed a portal for the road ahead.

“We’d go all day,” Newell said. “There was a little bit of everything on ice and off ice.

“It showed me the level it takes to get to the NHL. You can push past what you think you can do and push yourself to be the best.”

FIRE UP

THE ZAMBONI

Hockey pucks no longer flutter outside Newell’s yard like flying burritos from Ron Burgundy’s car window.

“Unfortunately, I hit the family car a few times,” Newell said.

Batting cage nets are draped above the backyard wood fence like a colossal spider’s crooked web. The fence has been replaced, rebuilt and refortified more times than a beaver dam in Athabasca County. At one time, lights were attached to the roof so Newell could practice at night. A dry ice surface has given way to a pixelated blue rubber coat.

In this modest corner of the backyard, there isn’t enough room to park a Zamboni.

From age 8 to 13, Newell spent two to three hours practicing in the day, then another two hours at night working on skating, shooting and maneuvering around tightly packed obstacle courses in the backyard.

Newell, a 5-foot-10, 146-pound center, has enjoyed a memorable year in the rink.

In May, he helped the Indiana Ice win the United States Hockey League’s Clark Cup, the junior hockey equivalent of the Stanley Cup. Newell was second in playoff points (seven) this spring.

The Ice defeated the Waterloo Black Hawks in Game 5 of the finals on the road, 3-2. Current Los Angeles Kings Alec Martinez (who scored the Stanley Cupclinching double overtime goal against the New York Rangers last month), Matt Greene and Trevor Lewis starred in the USHL.

“Pat was really, really good in the first series against Green Bay,” said right wing Alex Talcott, an Indiana Ice teammate. “Pat scored our first three goals in the playoffs. That was huge. Maybe we weren’t playing our best games as a team, but Pat really came through for us and was instrumental. As the playoffs went on, Pat continued to play really well.”

Newell and Talcott, who will suit up for the University of Michigan Wolverines in the upcoming season, were roommates for two years during their time with the Indiana Ice.

“He’s almost like a little brother to me,” Talcott said of Newell. “He’s a fun guy. He likes to joke around with the team. He fits in really well. I don’t think it matters what team he’s on, he’s really good in the locker room. He never gets down on anybody. Everybody on the team liked him.”

This season, Newell will play for the Penticton Vees, a junior “A” team in the British Columbia Hockey League in Canada. He’ll lace his skates for St. Cloud State in Minnesota in 2015-16. St. Cloud State reached the Frozen Four in 2013.

THE LAST

FRONTIER

Newell doesn’t look like he can grow a playoff beard, but the youngster left home at age 16 to play in Alaska.

He starred for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the North American Hockey League after his sophomore year of high school.

Newell was the youngest player on the Ice Dogs roster and one of the three youngest pups in the NAHL at the time, according to Ice Dogs head coach Trevor Stewart. Newell would skate, crash the boards and exchange slap shots with grown men. The teenager had five days off for Christmas to spend with his family.

“I didn’t see them again until the summer,” he said.

Newell, who picked up a hockey stick at age 3, has the potential to play in the NHL, according to Stewart.

“Absolutely,” the coach said. “With another year of junior hockey, and obviously getting stronger, he’s continuing to grow. After two or three years of college hockey, there’ll be pressure on him to sign a pro contract. . . .

“He’s a tremendous skater, and he controls the puck really well. He has a really good stick. He’s just making plays out there.”

Before joining the Ice Dogs, Newell played for the Jr. Kings, an all-star youth squad affiliated with the eponymous NHL team.

In addition to the thousands of hours practicing in his backyard, Newell trained whenever he could get ice time at the Iceoplex in Simi Valley. Newell’s father, John, sometimes rented the entire rink for his son.

“It’s always good to have a local kid get a shot at the NHL,” said Scott Slinger, the Iceoplex owner. “It’s good for hockey in California.”

Newell trained at the Iceoplex for three days during the first week of July to prepare for the Kings camp.

“I’ve seen him develop from a little boy into a young man,” said Slinger, a Toronto native who moved to California in the late 1960s. “He’s a self-driven kid, and that’s what it takes.

“We’re really proud of Pat and what he’s been able to do. He’s not a big kid, but he’s a scrapper.”

IT’S ALL NICE

ON ICE, ALRIGHT

The Newells are lifelong Kings fans. Having Patrick earn an invitation to the development camp was surreal.

“It’s a complete honor,” John Newell said. “Pat grew up watching the Kings. We all love the Kings.”

Steve Phillips, a Moorpark resident, started coaching Patrick Newell when the former Eagle was 7. Phillips, a Southern California native, said Newell has an innate “hockey sense.”

“He always had a lot of natural ability,” Phillips said. “He’s just a good, skilled player. He was a little smaller growing up, but he always worked hard.”

NHL dreams don’t start on a throne in a floating castle of the Pyrenees. They start at frozen ponds in Long Island, backyard corners in Thousand Oaks and in the limitless imaginations of determined players.

Patrick Newell is closer to his dream today, but he knows a ticket to the big show isn’t guaranteed.

“It’s the toughest sport to play,” Newell said. “You’ve got to have size, speed, endurance, all the physical attributes—and you’ve got to put it all together. I must work hard if I even want to come close to the NHL.”

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