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FLYERS NOTEBOOK: VALENCIA'S YOUNG TEAM GROWS UP.

Byline: Gideon Rubin Staff Writer

VALENCIA - The Valencia Flyers toiled in anonymity the first half of the season, struggling to keep up with their more experienced Western States Hockey League opponents in their inaugural season.

However, after adding several key players over the All-Star break, the Flyers suddenly have emerged as the talk of the Junior-B circuit.

The most notable addition has been local product Joey Howard. The Ice Station High School Hockey League player of the year last season, Howard, who helped Saugus win the title, returned to the Santa Clarita Valley to play for the Flyers after spending the first half of the season at the Junior A level in the United States Hockey League.

Howard, who's among nine new players added to the team since early December, helped the Flyers served notice over the weekend with a strong showing against a Phoenix Polar Bears team that until this weekend had yet to find anything resembling meaningful opposition.

Although host Valencia (9-19) lost all three games, the Flyers became the first WSHL team this season to be awarded a point at the expense of Phoenix (29-0). They earned it by virtue of taking the Polar Bears into overtime Saturday in a game Valencia eventually lost 5-4. The Flyers played well in a 4-2 loss on Friday. They suffered an 8-3 loss Sunday.

``I think what's important is that most of their (Phoenix's) guys have been playing together all year and a lot of them were on the team last year,'' Valencia coach Ryan Rockabrand said. ``We've been together less than a week.''

Howard, a right-winger, anchors a front line made up entirely of newcomers, with Rene Huegli on the opposite wing and Jeff Onstad at center.

The Flyers also got standout play over the weekend from Lavrentiy Kazaryan, their all-star goalie, whose performance solidified his starting job, Rockabrand said.

--!Message board: Valencia's strong showing over the weekend has made the Flyers the number-one topic of discussion on the WSHL Web site's message board.

``I just wanted to let people know that the Valencia Flyers gave the Phoenix Polar Bears a run for their money this weekend...'' said a fan identified as ``flyerfreak'' on the message board. ``...Congratulations Flyers, you really are looking good.''

--Aiming high: Buoyed by his team's play in the Phoenix series, Rockabrand said the Flyers are expecting big things. With 10 regular-season games remaining, they have an opportunity to get to .500 if they win out.

Rockabrand said the Flyers showed over the weekend that with more time to jell, Valencia is capable of challenging the Polar Bears if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.

The Flyers play Bay City of Lakewood tonight at 7:30.

--Back to basics: The Flyers have been emphasizing fundamentals in their practices in an effort to get everyone on the team familiar with each other. The practices have included ofce conditioning, similar to that which the team did before the season.

``It's almost like we have to re-invent the wheel,'' Rockabrand said. ``We're doing a lot of the same things we were doing in August.''

--Injury update: Howard, the target of intense physical contact in the Phoenix series, suffered a broken tooth but will be in the lineup tonight. Center Todd Stelnick is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 25, 2002
Words:552
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