By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Big weekend for local hockey family
Kruenegel brothers inch closer to advancing careers
Kyle Kruenegel is getting ready to compete in the USA Hockey Tier II 18-under National Championships in Gates Mills, Ohio starting March 30. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
Kyle Kruenegel is on the fast track to get to where his older brother, Tyler, currently is.

Both were a part of benchmark victories for themselves and their respective teams in different levels of ice hockey.

In Long Beach last Sunday, Kyle, a 16-year-old Mantecan and Sierra High junior, assisted the game-winning shot that lifted his Dublin-based Tri-Valley Blue Devils Midget 18AA team to a thrilling 3-2 victory over previously undefeated California Wave in the championship game of the California Amateur Hockey Association playoffs.

Now 40-9-4, the Blue Devils earned a berth to the USA Hockey Tier II under-18 National Championships, which takes place March 30-April 3 at the Mentor Civic Ice Arena in Ohio.

“It’s going to be a new experience for me,” Kyle said. “I’m kind of excited, but (it’s) kind of nerve-wracking at the same time. There are going to be scouts out there.”

Big brother Tyler was in his shoes — or skates, rather — last year. Then a Sierra High senior, Tyler and close friend Jake Commeau, also of Manteca, helped the Tri-Valley Blue Devils qualify for Nationals.

Tyler has since latched on with the Idaho Jr. Steelheads of the Western States Hockey League. The WSHL is a Tier-III Junior A league. There are three tiers of USA Hockey-sanctioned amateur junior leagues, and Tyler is trying to work his way up the ladder with hopes of earning a scholarship to play in the NCAA, or even move up a Tier or two and go straight to the professional level after that.

It’s a common route ice hockey players from the western states must take since the sport doesn’t have a big enough presence out here for college scouts to visit.

Junior hockey gives players like the Kruenegals a chance to showcase their talents.

The elder Kruenegal scored two goals in the Jr. Steelheads’ 5-1 win over the Phoenix Polar Bears, earning them the Western Division title.

Tonight they will face the El Paso Rhinos for the WSHL championship at the Sierra Providence Events Centre in El Paso, Texas. Kruenegal has nine goals and 11 assists on the season.

Kyle, meanwhile, is in the middle of the most pivotal stretch of his young ice hockey career.

After Nationals, where the 28th-ranked Blue Devils must face the No. 1, 3 and 20 teams in the country in their pool, Kyle is heading to the Pacific District Select Camp on May 5-8 in Kent, Wash.

To get there, he had to get through two tryouts in Oakland (NorCal) and Long Beach (state). He is one of eight defensemen in his age group to be selected out of California, and the only one representing the northern half of the state.

At the Pacific District tryouts, there will be 60-80 players in each age group coming from Alaska, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and California. At stake are 20 spots for the National Festivals and Development Camps in Rochester, N.Y. over the summer

From there, the elite of the elite will be make the national team, which will be groomed and developed for future international competition at the junior level.

 Just getting to this point, however, is a remarkable achievement for Kruenegel, one of the few Double-A level players from Northern California to ever make it to Pacific District Selects, where players from the more competitive Triple-A are evaluated.

Last year, he went through the process as a Single-A player and made it as an alternate.

“It’ll open up more opportunities than I’ve had in the past,” he said. “It gets spread out through the hockey community, and you’ll be known more.”