There are only a handful of Southern Californians playing college hockey.
So what are the odds of three from the San Gabriel Valley playing for one of the top-ranked NCAA teams in the nation?
Slim, but that is the case at Lake Superior State College in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.
Two of the three are starting and playing an important role in the success of the Lakers, who are 14-3-3 and ranked No. 2 in the NCAA behind the University of Minnesota.
Junior Mike de Carle of Covina starts at right wing and leads the team with 18 goals and has 36 points; junior Ken Martel of Hacienda Heights starts on defense: sophomore Brian Corso of San Dimas is a reserve defenseman.
De Carle is regarded as best of the three. De Carle, who played for the West team that won a bronze medal at the 1987 U. S. Olympic Festival, was chosen by the Buffalo Sabres in the 1987 National Hockey League supplemental draft and is considered a pro prospect.
"Mike's always been a gifted athlete," Martel said. "He's gifted at everything he plays but in hockey he just has a natural ability to score. He's Mr. Offense for us. He's always had the most natural ability of the three of us."
"It's strange for three guys from the same area to be playing at the same school--especially one of the top Division I schools," Martel said. "We're about 50-50 Americans and Canadians, so to have three from the San Gabriel Valley is unusual."
Martel and De Carle arrived at Lake Superior as freshmen before Corso transferred from Boston University last season.
They had played together for years in leagues in West Covina and on all-star teams. Martel said he and De Carle had played together on youth teams in West Covina and Norwalk since they were about 9.
An early start had a lot to do with the development of De Carle. His parents moved to Southern California from Toronto in 1961 and he started skating at 4.
After playing in West Covina and Norwalk youth leagues for 10 years and attending South Hills High in West Covina as a freshman and sophomore, De Carle was having success and wanted to continue in the sport.
So he took the route of most Southern California hockey players who want to sharpen their skills. He went to Canterbury Prep in New Milford, Conn., for a year before finishing high school at Austin High of Minnesota, where he played junior hockey for two years with the Austin Mavericks of the U. S. Hockey League.
"Most kids probably play youth hockey until they're 14 or 15 and if they have any aspirations of going on they go off to a prep school or junior league," De Carle said.
It was at Austin that De Carle was scouted by Lake Superior State Coach Frank Anzalone, and he offered De Carle a scholarship.
The 21-year-old De Carle, 6-1 and 185 pounds, had a promising freshman year with 12 goals and 21 assists. As a sophomore he led the team with 34 goals, 18 assists and 52 points.
Martel, 22, remembers spending his free time as a youth in ice arenas:
"I always wanted to play hockey. I would spend every free moment at the rink. My social life was lacking."
Martel had attended Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights for three years when he decided to start his senior year at Austin High in Minnesota. That enabled him to play junior hockey for the Mavericks and stay close to his friend, De Carle.
"The hockey in Southern California for younger players is not bad, but once you reach a certain point, kids tend to get interested in other things and the hockey diminishes," Martel said. "The caliber is good, but the numbers (of players) are not anything like it is in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul)."
Martel returned to graduate from Los Altos after the hockey season before playing for the Mavericks most of the next two years.
He made his biggest impression with the Mavericks during the 1984-85 season when he scored 42 points, made the All-U.S. Hockey League team and was named his team's most valuable player. He was spotted by Anzalone and offered a scholarship.
"Mike and I played together for two years at Austin and received scholarships at the same time," Martel said.
By playing hockey at Lake Superior State, Martel has helped fulfill his dream as well as that of his parents. "My parents wanted me to go to college and I wanted to play hockey."
It's hockey that gets him most excited: "There are not that many colleges that play hockey in this country and to play for a Division I school--and a good one--is quite an accomplishment."
Martel has been known more for his defense since he started playing for Lake Superior. He had three goals and seven assists as a freshman, no goals and three assists as a sophomore and no goals and two assists this year.
The 21-year-old Corso didn't take the same path as Martel and De Carle to reach Lake Superior.
Corso had played with De Carle and Martel in leagues in West Covina and for all-star teams as a youth. But after attending Damien High in La Verne for two years, Corso transferred to Canterbury Prep in Connecticut.
After Canterbury, Corso attended Boston University but transferred to Lake Superior State after one semester at Boston."
Because of NCAA rules, Corso was ineligible to play until four games ago and he has yet to play. But Corso expects to play in the second half of the season.
While the three spend most of the year in Sault Ste. Marie, they still return to the San Gabriel Valley for Christmas and during the summer.
They skate at the West Covina rink and others and play pick-up games to maintain their skill.
When they return to school in the fall, Martel said it is nice to see a couple of familiar faces. He said the presence of De Carle and Corso has made the transition of living and playing away from home easier.
"It's tough when you go off to school to play hockey, so it's nice to have someone there you know. . . . Real nice."