Later this year, Colorado Academy students will do something they haven’t done in more than a decade: take to the ice to compete on a CA high school hockey team. “We are really excited that CA is adding ice hockey back into the mix,” says one parent, whose high schooler hopes to play on team.
Boys ice hockey joins the lineup of competitive winter sports options for Upper School student athletes, in addition to boys and girls basketball, girls swimming/diving, and co-ed rock climbing. The winter sports season opens next month on November 10.
Says Director of Athletics, Bill Hall, “My goal is to provide positive learning experiences through athletics to all of our students. (The addition of hockey) allows me to offer one more program from which both boys and girls can benefit. Yes, boys and girls will play on the team. The state governing body for high school sports says that girls can play on a boys team if no viable alternative girls team exists.
“I am looking forward to playing on a high school game because of the new opportunities it brings,” says Maya Rutherford, a new CA freshman this year. “First of all, I get to meet new people and make new connections, which is really exciting, especially being new to CA.”
Maya has been skating since age three, and playing ice hockey since third grade. “When I was 12, I went to the Lady Rough Riders (club team) which is where I am now.” Maya is also a stand out lacrosse player, and plans to play both for CA.
Says Maya’s mother, JJ, “Ice hockey is a sport that kids spend hours outside of school playing, but their school life and their hockey life never overlap. It’s a shame, because the student-athletes that are putting in those hours and that kind of effort playing a sport like soccer or lacrosse can still represent their school in addition to their club team. Now, hockey players at CA will have the chance to do the same.”
CA’s team says will play a sub-varsity, ten-game schedule, with some weekend and some mid-week games. The team will practice Tuesday and Thursday mornings from 6:15 to 7:30 a.m. at the Foothills Recreation Center. Hall says already, nearly a dozen students have expressed interest in playing. He says it will take just 12-15 students to get it started.
Ice hockey is a growing sport in Colorado schools, says Bud Ozello, Assistant Commissioner of the Colorado High School Athletic Association. “The state is seeing growth in the number of schools that offer the program.” Ozello says there are now 32 teams, compared to 26 just five years ago. “Any time we can grow the ice hockey program with schools or school districts that are interested in what is best for student athletes, we are excited to do that. It’s another opportunity for students to say, ‘Yes, I represent my high school.’”
CA’s original team was started during the 1972-73 school year, and was disbanded in 1980-81. The CA student newspaper that covered the team in the 70s and 80s, rarely had any accolades for the squad and even predicted its demise.
Among the players was Gordon Smith from the CA Class of 1979, as well Bill Talbott (’79), Jeff Schwarz (’79), Chris Flanigan (’79), and James Mark (’78). Smith remembers, “We were coached by Dick Weeks and we practiced very early in the morning (it was brutal!), among other places at the old skating rink on Sheridan Boulevard just north of Hampden Avenue. It was the same rink that 1976 Olympic figure skating champion Dorothy Hamill trained at. Hamill attended and graduated from CA’s Upper School. Olympic skater Paul Wylie was the team manager, according to former coach Dick Weeks.
From the winter of 2002 through the spring of 2007, CA’s ice hockey teams were small in number but big in heart. Players combined athleticism, mental toughness and strength, beating some of the impressive 4A competition, even Regis. Good coaching and a lot of foot and stick work paid off. A few Mustangs went on to play collegiate hockey, among them Jon Cook CA ’04, Cam Gibbar CA ’07, and Kyle Rajaniemi CA ’07. From 2007 until 2010, a small number of Mustangs combined forces with the Mullen team.
As CA brings the program back, CHSAA’s Ozello has confidence in the new program. “Ice hockey will be offered at CA at the highest level. The excitement is there, and CA has said the school will do what it needs to do to build this program.” Bill Hall says it has been a personal goal to be able to bring hockey back to CA. He played as a student, so he remembers what it was all about. “I still fondly remember my father driving me to early morning practices,” says Hall.
“So many positive people involved in hockey impacted my life, and I want to provide that option for CA students. If I can provide another opportunity for kids to have a great learning experience through sports, then that’s great.” Former Coach Dick Weeks says, “I truly hope hockey will take off again, it’s a great sport.”