From Bucks to Bolts: Breckenridge welcomes new junior hockey program for 2017-18 season
It’s been a busy first few days for the brand-new Breckenridge Bolts.
On Friday morning — the final Friday before school was back in session across most of Colorado — about 16 or 17 members of the town’s newest junior hockey program entered their classroom for the next few months: the main rink at Stephen C. West Ice Arena. The guys, all between 16 and 20 years old with a huge variety of playing experience, met for the first time ever the day before. Even though several players are still en route from places like Minnesota, Michigan and across Colorado, the team is already coming together.
“Guys, let’s pick it up!” new head coach and Breck native Kory DeKoevend said from the ice between passing drills. Like the players, he was wearing the team’s new logo — a straightforward lightning bolt on a badge-like background — and spending just as much time on the ice.
Later tonight (Aug. 19), after the team’s regular morning practice and afternoon strength-training session, half will don black jerseys and the other half white jerseys for the team’s first inter-squad scrimmage.
It’s nothing too serious, said general manager and goalkeeper coach Wren Arbuthnot, but the public is still invited to stop by (for free) and see their town’s new team in action. The puck drops around 5:30 p.m. at the indoor rink and both coaches are expecting tough, fast-paced play — even if things are a bit sloppy in the back half.
“I’m very impressed with what we have for goaltending and we’ll be potent on offense,” Arbuthnot said from the bench between a fourth round of passing and shooting drills. “Defense is a concern right now, but if you have great goalies it can make up for it.”
Then, on Sunday morning, the players leave their host families for a day of volunteer trail work on new routes in the Tenderfoot Mountain system outside of Dillon. On Labor Day, they’ll volunteer at the annual Great Rubber Duck Races hosted by the Rotary Club, and then keep on volunteering in their new community from the first games in October until the end of the regular hockey season in March.
With any luck, it won’t be the Bolts last season in Breck.
“This could last decades, it could be gone in a year and a half,” said Arbuthnot, who was involved with the town’s last (and first) junior hockey program, the Breck Bucks from 2015-16. “But we have the right personnel and the right model to be successful. The situation we’re dealing with now is being a first-year program and that’s never easy. If we neglect our responsibility to the community, we won’t survive. If we are out there in the community and playing great hockey, this will last.”
Bucks to Bears to Bolts
Maybe second time’s the charm for Junior “A” Tier III hockey in Breck. In 2015, the Breck Bucks arrived to much fanfare: jerseys for the Breckenridge Town Council, regular home games, huge crowds at the season opener and a trip to the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League’s Final Four tournament. The Bucks lost there to the Aspen Leafs — a 6-7 heartbreaker that was rough, tough and full of heart — and looked ready for a second season.
Then, well, it didn’t happen. For undisclosed reasons the Breck Bucks folded before the team’s second season, but if we’re being honest, maybe third time’s the charm. Remember the Breck Bears: the short-lived junior team that replaced the Breck Bucks? Hardly anyone does, and that’s because the Bears folded just a day before the 2016-17 season opener against Aspen, again for mostly undisclosed reasons.
So what makes Arbuthnot, DeKoevend and the Bolts third coach, longtime Summit local Bobby Ruddle, certain this iteration of junior hockey will survive? For starters, Arbuthnot said, the team is working hand in hand with Summit Youth Hockey — the same club feeding several teenage players into the program.
“This is different because Summit Youth Hockey is what kicked this into motion,” said Arbuthnot, who was careful to mention that the Bolts aren’t funded by or otherwise affiliated with SYH. “It’s a separate entity, but the people who are now in charge have ties to Summit Youth Hockey.”
Bolts and bruisers
For the players, though, Breck’s weird history of touch-and-go junior hockey hardly matters. They’ve got one goal and one goal only: play the best hockey they possibly can.
“I missed playing competitive hockey and knew I only had one year left of eligibility, so I had to get out and play,” said 20-year-old Dan Risch, a native of Cambridge, Minnesota, who spent some time playing club and JuCo hockey in the Midwest. He’s a bruiser at 6 feet, 1 inch and about 200 pounds, and he brings a much-needed “big body” to a team filled with small, fast, nimble forwards.
But first, there’s that Breckenridge altitude.
“It is killer man,” Risch said from the bench, happy to take a breather between drills. “You go from zero to 10,000 feet and it’ll kill you.”
On the other end of the spectrum is Luke Marsh, an 18-year-old Summit County native who’s spent the past eight years traveling to Denver to play with the Rough Riders club. He’s smaller than Risch, but likes to play forward just as fiercely.
“I’m a little guy, so I like to mess with people, get in their face, get dirty,” said Marsh, who was breathing way easier than just about everyone else on the ice that morning. “I wanted to have fun with hockey again. In Denver it was so much travel, but now I can stay at home, get a job, play hockey and just have fun with it.”
Like most other players on the Bolts, including fellow Summit natives who played for the Tigers instead of traveling to Denver, Marsh is taking a year away from college or junior college to try his hand at hockey full time. With any luck, he’ll get better and draw the attention of a Tier II or even Tier I team, and then keep climbing the ladder until he reaches his limit. It’s the coaching staff’s big, looming proof of concept: prove they can produce high-level players, year in and year out.
But first, they’ve got to get through this first season.
“The first thing is fill the locker room, “ Arbuthnot said. “The measure of success for a Tier III program is how many kids get the opportunity to move on to the next level, so your immediate win-loss record is second to saying we sent a few kids to Tier II or Tier I … I’ve seen guys go from Tier III to roster on a Division I college team. It’s not unheard of.”
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