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High school musical? No, high school hockey!

February 20, 2009 |  4:39 pm

Craig Johnson, who played for both the Ducks and the Kings during a 10-season NHL career and was part of the trade that sent Wayne Gretzky from the Kings to St. Louis, was appointed head coach of the hockey team at Santa Margarita Catholic High. The school is a member of the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League, an initiative by the Ducks to get more kids involved with the sport.

The school will begin play in the 2009-10 season. It will be the coaching debut for Johnson, whose career was distinguished by his remarkable speed and equally remarkable inability to finish off scoring chances.

Santa Margarita will join JSerra Catholic High in the Ducks High School Hockey League, which launched in September, 2008. Several more schools are expected to join the league next season.

The expense of the sport has always been a big factor working against establishing high school hockey programs. Most kids from Southern California who have found their way to the NHL have had to leave home to polish their skills, going to prep schools like Shattuck St. Mary's, the Canadian junior leagues, or colleges such as Denver University or Colorado College.

The number of kids from this area making it to the elite level is surprising: Ducks defenseman Brian Salcido of Hermosa Beach on Friday was the 23rd California-born player to play in the NHL--16 of them after the 1988 trade that brought Gretzky to Los Angeles from Edmonton.

A strong high school league can provide more options for talented local kids and prepare them for college hockey, if they choose that route. The Ducks are making a big investment in this program, and the rewards will be widespread.

--Helene Elliott