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If Gretzky Plays Forum, Juniors Can Play Burbank

Times Staff Writer

“I wonder if Gretzky had to go through all this,” said one tired young ice hockey player to another at a crowded sports medicine clinic near San Diego.

“All this” summed up the most extensive exam ever required for Southland amateurs. Those who passed would be over the third hurdle toward making a new Junior B team hailed as the “missing link” between Western skaters and big time scouts back East.

Some 29 youths, 15 to 19 years old, got iso-kinetic test to gauge the strength and power in each leg, an endurance test, tests to measure flexibility of knees and hips, tests for upper body and back flexibility, full dental and vision exams, blood pressure checks and urinalyses that included drug tests.

Gathered from as far away as Alaska and Salt Lake City, they also learned they would have to abstain from alcohol and cigarettes.

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What is it they are so ardently pursuing?

A chance to combine the best hockey and best education possible.

“That means Division I colleges,” said George Clark, the project’s sponsor. “The name of the game is exposure.”

And the name of the team is the Rustlers.

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Clark, a San Diego businessman whose son was in the tryouts, is investing substantially in the venture. To get his team into the North American Junior Hockey League, whose games play to paying crowds, he had to make guarantees of three complete seasons, post a $100,000 bond, and come up with a franchise fee of $1,000 a year.

In addition, he will pick up air travel costs for 24 games, the nearest in St. Louis; expenses of visitors the first year for 12 games at home, and the services of a trainer at every game and practice.

He will also share the cost of remodeling the team’s home rink, Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank, which he estimates will total $40,000.

The rink is closed until Sunday for the initial remodeling. To get the management’s cooperation, Clark offered a two-year guarantee on ice time, at premium rates, as well as the prospect of up to 2,000 fans buying concessions. The Rustlers will play their first game Sunday, an exhibition against a team of celebrity all-stars.

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About 60 teen-agers went to the tryouts at Pickwick, and were cut in three stages to 30 who qualified for the day-long tests at Point Loma Nazarene College and the San Diego Sports Medicine, Training and Rehabilitation Center. Of the 29 who actually made the trip, all passed the tests. Then they were cut to 21 in a final five-day training camp.

“We plan to carry 24-25 players,” Clark said. “We’re still looking for a defenseman and a couple of wings.”

Each youth who makes the team will pay $1,000 for the first year, which Clark said doesn’t begin to cover the cost.

Clark’s real goal is to get Division I college scholarships for at least four of his players the first year.

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“We also have a scholastic requirement for our players, unlike other youth hockey teams here,” he said. “They’ll have to maintain a 2.9 grade-point average, higher than the 2.5 for high school athletes. We’ll supply tutoring to help them do well on SAT tests . . .”


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