Fledgling hockey league includes hardworking Claremont player

by Andrew Alonzo

This article originally published for the Claremont Courier

Between 4 and 8 a.m. Monday through Thursday, Jonathon Anderson works his unloading shift at Vons in La Verne then makes his way to the Ontario Center Ice Arena for training with the Ontario Jr. Reign until to noon.

It’s a heavy schedule for the Claremont hockey player, especially once weekend games and family events are lumped into the mix, but the spry 19-year-old doesn’t mind the demands.

Anderson, a defenseman entering his first season with the Jr. Reign, has been playing hockey since 2011, when he was just eight. The school his older sister attended was giving out tickets to an Ontario Reign game and Anderson remembers going with his family.

“We fell in love immediately,” he said. “Hockey became kind of our daily routine. Aside from work now and school, it’s been, okay, now school is all over, chores and everything are all done, now we can enjoy the fun part where we can play hockey. That was our treat.”

Sensing his enthusiasm, Anderson’s parents sought out local rinks and teams. An Arcadia native, he began his playing career with recreational and club roller hockey around West Covina. When he was a sophomore at Damien High School, he made the transition onto ice.

He played for the Pasadena Maple Leafs U18-AA team, and later, the California Wave’s U18-AAA team.

After aging out of the California Wave’s division this last year, Anderson decided to make the transition to the next level: juniors, or tier three hockey. He caught the attention of the United States Premier Hockey League’s Ontario Jr. Reign head coach Jeremy Blumes at a clinic in early 2022, and the coach recruited him for the team’s upcoming second season.

The Ontario Jr. Reign joined the league in early 2021. Blumes was hired to lead the USPHL tier three junior-level expansion team in August 2021. Two months before the season’s September beginning, coach Blumes built the junior team’s roster.

“Using my connections and previous coaches, we were able to put together a team of about 25 players that weren’t intimated by the thought of playing on a first-year team,” Blumes said. “A lot of times when you’re recruiting, players want to go to a team with a track record of success or some kind of history. But the guys that we had, they weren’t afraid of a challenge.”

Asked if it was a hard sell by coach Blumes to be on a fairly new team for its second year, Anderson said it was a factor to consider. Although the main goal of the USPHL is to develop players so they can make the jump to either tier two or college hockey, Anderson did wonder if he would be able to get scouted by a university being on a young team.

“When I was looking to join teams or teams that were reaching out to me, I was looking at their stats, [such as] what’s their college commits? Because I’m like, ‘Okay, which team can get me the most looks for college?’” Anderson said. “That’s my end goal: to play college hockey.”

Although he has no dream school in mind, Anderson said he plans to major in business administration and potentially minor in kinesiology. His end goal is to give back to the hockey community, but if he gets drafted to the NHL after college, he wouldn’t mind going pro.

Anderson and his teammates hope to build upon the successful foundation laid during the team’s inaugural season, when after a rocky start, the Jr. Reign ended up with a playoff spot and finished with an overall record of 20-24.

Describing what it’s like to be a pioneer of a new team, the three-year Claremont resident explained simply, “It’s awesome.” Anderson said the team has its sights set on the playoffs and claiming the Pacific Division championship by the end of the season.

Though the team is new, past players have already been recruited to various teams, including three who’ve signed on to collegiate programs, as well as Damon Aygeman, who signed with the tier two Grand Prairie Storm in the Alberta Junior Hockey League following last season’s success.

Blumes said advancing almost a fifth of last season’s roster to a higher level is a really good start for the team in terms of legacy building.

In addition to furthering their hockey skills, Coach Blumes also wants to make his players better men off the ice and in their communities.

“Our guys are involved in a lot of different volunteer activities, including being minor [league] hockey coaches with the Empire Hockey Club as well as the Jr. Reign youth hockey club,” coach he said. “All those things help make our players better people.”

On September 23, the Jr. Reign opened the season with a 5-3 home win over the Long Beach Shredders, then followed it up with another 9-3 win over the Shredders on September 24. From September 30 to October 2 the Jr. Reign was at Lake Tahoe for a Pacific Division series against the Lake Tahoe Lakers. They swept the three-game series.

Tickets begin at $10 for adults and $8 for children under 8. 

Coach Blumes explained getting fans in the seats for upcoming games is essential for the team.

“It makes all the difference,” he said. “It’s the difference between an hour and 15 minutes of practice and an hour and a half of practice. It’s the difference between chartering a bus and flights, a two-star hotel where a guy doesn’t get a good night’s rest versus that three-star that serves hot breakfast instead of Cheerios in the morning.”