Breckenridge local JR Engelbert named new Summit High School hockey coach
Summit High School has tapped one of the county’s most involved hockey figures to lead the Tigers.
Breckenridge local J.R. Engelbert is the new hockey head coach for Summit. Engelbert succeeds Joey Otsuka, who coached the Tigers for two years — including a 14-6 record last winter that featured a Peak Conference Championship. Otsuka resigned after relocating for a new job.
Summit High School Director of Athletics Travis Avery said Engelbert brings great qualifications as well as a connection to the local hockey community and the Tigers players. For years, Engelbert has been a fixture at Stephen C. West Ice Arena — whether it be as a coach or director of operations for the Summit Youth Hockey club or as starting goaltender and general manager for the Breckenridge Vipers semipro hockey team.
“Hockey is not unique in this, but it is one of our sports where it’s important to have a good relationship with the club and the rink, and J.R. has that in his position with Summit Youth Hockey,” Avery said. “He’s come into this year and provides a logistical bridge, and that’s helpful. And (with) his playing and coaching experience beyond the high school level in his post-high school playing career — he spent some time coaching both locally and in Michigan before he came out here — he has a well-rounded background.”
Halfway into Engelbert’s first week leading Summit High practice at Stephen C. West, he said this year’s team will be focused on “accountability and responsibility for ourselves and our teammates.”
“To have success, we all have to be able to trust each other on and off the ice,” Engelbert said. “And just really trying to build that and bring a good consistent work ethic to the rink every single day.”
Engelbert taking on the gig comes after he and Chris Miller, Summit Youth Hockey’s executive director, jumped in this fall to coach the high-school-age preseason team. Engelbert said coaching and practicing with the players this fall made him want to “get out there and coach high school.”
“And just the coaching style, player development — all of that is different at the high school level than the club level,” Engelbert said. “It’s different in the fact that, at the club level coming up to high school, a lot of the focus is on skill and player development and getting them what they need to go into their high school years to set them up to be competitive.”
After the Tigers had “some pretty good success last year” led by a skilled and deep senior class that has now departed, Engelbert said he hopes the attitude and confidence will roll over into this year. That said, he acknowledges this winter’s preseason has been tough without the ability to play due to COVID-19.
That changed Monday, with a state variance that permits high schools to practice and compete despite local COVID-19 regulations.
“But when we started practice Monday, you can see the excitement in their eyes now,” Engelbert said. “They are defending league champs with something to prove.”
Summit is slated to play its first game of the shortened 13-game regular season — which will run through March 10 — at 6:15 p.m. Jan. 30 at home versus Crested Butte. Engelbert will be joined behind the glass by returning assistant coach Ian McCluskie, who is a Tigers hockey alum, and new assistant coach Josh Schneider, originally from St. Louis, Missouri. Engelbert said he thinks the diverse background of the coaching staff will benefit the Tigers’ quality and style of hockey.
Otsuka agrees the Tigers are in good coaching hands.
“I was also very grateful the players and parents have a great coach who will hold the team — as a singular unit — accountable both in victory and loss,” Otsuka said. “I’ve coached with JR for a while, and his attention to detail, organization and passion will highlight the virtue of true sportsmanship to the athletes.”
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