Four ex-Bobcats win USPHL Premier title with Hampton Roads
Who knew there would be such a fruitful player pipeline from Arizona to Hampton Roads, Va.?
That is certainly the case, however, evidenced by the quartet of former Arizona Bobcats players who lifted the USPHL Premier championship trophy on March 12 with the repeat champion Hampton Roads Whalers.
“We knew we had our work cut out for us, but there were good veterans on the team that helped push us through,” said Kohl Hedquist, a Tempe native, on winning his first title with the Whalers. “What we did this season is tough to do without good leadership. It was easy to ask, ‘What do I do here?’ They showed me the ropes.”
It was the first title for Hedquist and goalie Blake Bjella. It was title No. 2 for alternate captain Jared Sanchez and veteran forward Joe DiGiulio.
“I got the ‘A’ this year, so it was a big step for that,” said the ‘98-born Sanchez, a Scottsdale native currently living in Goodyear. “I thought us captains led well. I’m very proud of every single player on this team.”
“I love this organization, I love everything about it – the coaches, the players, the staff, everything about it is awesome,” said the ‘99-born DiGiulio, who lives in Scottsdale. He was teammates in the Bobcats organization with each of his fellow Whalers teammates from Arizona.
“Everything just kind of fell into place, and it worked out great obviously,” said the ‘98-born Bjella, who lives in Mesa. “I’m speechless. Winning the championship is a dream come true. We came together and found a way to win. My former Bobcats teammates are great guys, and I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. It was great to have them here.”
Sanchez remembers originally trying skating and hockey at age four, but “I didn’t want to do it.” At age six, he gave it another shot and “suddenly loved the game.”
“I started playing in some Mite A games to get going, and then I went to the Jr. Coyotes with Ron Filion, and then to the Bobcats when that organization was formed,” said Sanchez. “I was a first-year Bobcat.”
Hedquist was destined to get on skates, he said.
“My dad coached, my mom figure-skated, my brother and sister played hockey. I learned to walk and crawl in an ice rink,” said the ‘99-born forward. “My Dad coached me first with the Phoenix Polar Bears and the Firebirds. I joined a summer camp with Ron Filion the same year that Joe did, and I played with the Bobcats until I was 18.”
DiGiulio made the move from San Jose, Calif., to Phoenix when he was 14 years old. He and Hedquist were at a summer camp in 2016 where Whalers owner Pat Cavanagh spotted them both and talked to them about the Whalers.
“He wanted me to come out to Hampton Roads, and that was three years ago. The rest is history,” DiGiulio added.
Sanchez and DiGiuilio often found themselves on a line this year with fellow second-year Whaler John Moncovich, who posted 52 points in 40 regular-season games. He added six points in five USPHL Premier National Tournament games.
“Joe and I work hard in the corners and we get the puck to ‘Monc,’ and hopefully he’ll get that shot in the net,” said Sanchez. “I cannot believe how close this team is. I have never experienced a team so close.”
That closeness made it a seamless transition for the newer players.
“It’s nice because it was my first year here,” added Hedquist. “They kind of showed me the ropes and took me into their house the first week. Being a first-year guy, I knew we had our top scorers like Moncovich, Brandon Osmundson, Matt Hancon, Conner Hunt, so I just tried to go out and provide some energy for the boys as a defensive forward.
“If I can do something out there that gives the big scorers some energy, they’ll come out for their shift with some extra jump.”
It’s hard to argue with “extra jump” being associated with the Whalers. After all, with so many USPHL titles, they have plenty of jump and are always looking for more – and Arizona is definitely in their sights as a pool of talent.
— Joshua Boyd/USPHL.com
(April 9, 2019)