Jennrich providing ‘sunshine’ on Lakers’ blueline

Dan Falloon

There don’t seem to be a lot of fitting nicknames in hockey anymore, given most monikers these days are just the first syllable of the player’s last name—plus ‘y.’
But Lakers’ defenceman Phil Jennrich is running counter to that general rule, having been tagged with the nickname “Sunshine.”
Sure, it works given the 20-year-old’s sunny disposition. But it also was the nickname of quarterback Ronnie Bass in the 2000 football film “Remember the Titans.”
Both athletes are blond Orange County boys trying to find their way in a smaller community, and both were able to contribute to their teams in a big way.
Jennrich, for starters, came up huge in Saturday night’s 5-3 win here over the Wisconsin Wilderness, tallying four points, including the game-winning goal.
On the goal, Jennrich’s first of the season, he took a feed from Byron Katapaytuk and wired a wrister over the glove of 6’8” goalie John McLean.
“I called for it, ‘Drop! Drop! Drop!’ and their ‘D’ stuck with him [Katapaytuk],” Jennrich recalled.
“I just pulled it back and just snapped top cheddar on the goalie.
“It doesn’t feel any better to go in that group of people on the ice and celebrate,” he added.
Lakers’ coach Wayne Strachan said good things happen when Jennrich hits the ice, which became especially clear in Saturday’s win.
“Phil was on [the ice] for all five goals for,” Strachan noted. “He played a hell of a game out there.”
Jennrich acknowledged he’ll try to create some fireworks in the offensive zone, having broken in on several Lakers’ rushes on Saturday night.
“Defence first, always, but if you have chances, I always love to take ’em,” he enthused.
Strachan is thrilled with Jennrich’s offensive explosion, but hopes to see the blueliner use his 6’3”, 190-pound frame to his advantage in the Lakers’ zone.
“He’s a guy that we’ve talked to to step up his physical play, and he’s a guy offensively that can make things happen for us,” Strachan remarked.
Jennrich is taking his second tour of duty in the SIJHL, having recorded four goals in 26 games with the former Schreiber Diesels in 2008-09 as a spare defenceman.
He’s thrilled to return to the league and take on an expanded role.
“It’s always good to come back and be one of the top players,” he reasoned. “It’s a good experience.”
He also spent parts of the last two seasons with the Yellowstone Quake of the Northern Pacific Hockey League (tallying 16 points in 37 games) and the Yarmouth Mariners of the Maritime Junior ‘A’ Hockey League (notching two assists in 23 games).
Jennrich said he’s enjoyed the opportunity to play in Canada, noting the country’s commitment to its national game.
“I’ve been up in Canada for three years,” he noted. “The fans here are just amazing. The Lakers come first to them.
“They’re out here always cheering and getting us going,” he added. “That just gets the adrenaline bubbling.
In a sense, Jennrich is an odd age for a player coming out of California. He was too young to get fully wrapped in “Gretzky-mania” and already was well-entrenched in the sport when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
However, hockey runs in the Jennrich family, who originally hail from the Twin Cities region. In fact, Jennrich’s father, Jack, played in Thunder Bay for a spell.
As well, his brothers also have taken part in the “family tradition” of junior hockey.
However, the native of Lake Forest, Calif. (an Anaheim suburb) has noted an upswing in facilities since the Ducks won it all—the one positive by-product for the L.A. Kings’ fan.
“Once the Ducks won the Cup, it just ballooned,” he recalled.
“You’d be surprised. We have probably 15 rinks within two hours of each other.
“There’s a lot of money down there, so they spend it on what’s going on, what people want to see,” he noted.
With winters in Canada and summers in southern California, Jennrich has experienced pretty much all a North American can live through, weather-wise.
“I got to make my first snowman last year,” he laughed.
“I get winter, I get fall, and then when I go home, it’s hot.”
Even though Jennrich stands out in a room full of hardened northerners, his love for hockey has brought him together with his Lakers’ teammates who similarly live and breathe the sport.
“There’s nothing better,” he remarked. “Everyone here wakes up just to play hockey.
“You get on the ice, nothing else matters,” he stressed. “Anything going on that day doesn’t matter, besides what’s on the ice.”