Hockey club aims to extend Summit High School season with fall tournaments

Summit Youth Hockey programs return to the ice with COVID-19 restrictions in place

The Summit High School Tigers play the Steamboat Springs Sailors at Stephen C. West Ice Arena on Dec. 11, 2019.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

BRECKENRIDGE — As the Summit Youth Hockey program prepares for the season with novel coronavirus restrictions, high-school-aged players will be able to make up for lost time through the club.

The club’s high school team, coached by Summit High School Tigers head coach Joey Otsuka, is scheduled to play in at least three tournaments this fall before the Summit High School season begins in January. The state’s governing body for high school sports, the Colorado High School Activities Association, postponed the start of winter sports to January as part of a modified four-season plan in response to COVID-19.

Otsuka said the Tigers high school players — who are practicing twice a week for an hour while wearing facial coverings — will get the chance to play against clubs from other mountain towns Oct. 16-18 in Aspen. He said Summit Youth Hockey is planning to host a tournament at Stephen C. West Ice Arena over Halloween weekend. The squad also has plans to play in November in Vail. In addition, the coach said he’d like to schedule some exhibition games, potentially a mini-preseason league running from mid-November through the end of December.

“We feel it’s important because we basically lost 30% of our CHSAA season this year,” Otsuka said about the shortened seasons. “We want to try to fill that back in.”

In terms of what those tournaments or games would look like, Otsuka said it would be done using whatever the home county COVID-19 regulations are at the time of the game. In Breckenridge, Summit Youth Hockey players currently are required to wear facial coverings while out on the ice. Although he said he understands, respects and appreciates the rules — and sees his players following them — the requirement to play with a mask is difficult, Otsuka said.

“The players are doing a good job trying to make this as normal as possible,” Otsuka said. “It’s just — it’s a bit tough to do physical activity with a mask on.”

Compared to last season, the Summit High hockey players are not doing dryland training and have lost a total of an hour of practice time a week. Heading into the season, Otsuka said it’s putting the onus on the players to be ready with their fitness.

“We can’t afford to spend 15 minutes like last year on skating,” Otsuka said. “We get in there, teach younger players the concept and refresh them for the older players. … The performance in our drills has been very, very good, because I feel like they are aware how precious our ice time is.”

Summit Youth Hockey Director Chris Miller said he’s confident the program’s teams will play games this fall against regional mountain clubs, though “the process of the games might look different.” The program’s teams are currently in the middle of a two-week tryout period. He said the teams might play on the Front Range beginning in January but added that out-of-state travel won’t occur this year.

The program is trudging forward through the pandemic in a community fashion, including a donor purchasing facial coverings for all players. Miller said he’s proud of the community culture the program has continued to embrace, and he commended new Director of Operations JR Engelbert for the growth since last year.

There also have been COVID hurdles for the program, as Summit Youth Hockey had to postpone its goalie camp for two weeks after a member of the program tested positive.

The program also had to pull the plug on a rescheduled Summit Hockey Classic, the program’s largest annual fundraiser. They were hoping to host it in mid-September, but Miller said the event wouldn’t have been possible to pull off due to municipal and county regulations. They plan for the 20-year tradition to return next year.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.