Junior Hockey League coming to Aspen ’15-16 | AspenTimes.com

Junior Hockey League coming to Aspen ’15-16

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

Drop the puck.

Hockey is headed to a higher level in Aspen. And in Colorado

USA Hockey this week approved the creation of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League (RMJHL), a Tier 3 junior league in Colorado.

Announcement of the league approval came from Shaun Hathaway, director of Aspen Junior Hockey and the driving force behind the creation of the Tier 3 junior league in Colorado.

Hathaway said the league will begin its inaugural season in 2015-16, the winter after next. Initially, the teams had hoped to play next winter.

But continued negotiations moved the start of the league to 2015.

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"The league will begin its inaugural season in 2015-16 as the five founding teams recently were granted approval to operate by the USA Hockey Junior Council," Hathaway said, with the stipulation that the league expands to six teams before the start of play.

He said the founding members of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League are the Aspen Leafs, Colorado Rampage (Monument), Colorado Thunderbirds (Littleton), Grand Junction Coyotes and Pikes Peak Miners (Colorado Springs).

"All are established and highly structured youth hockey associations that now boast advanced instruction and player development from (under-8) beginners to advanced (under-20) college-bound players," Hathaway said. He added that three of the programs — Rampage, Thunderbirds and Miners — currently operate highly successful and nationally recognized AAA teams (under 12 through under 18).

USA Hockey's Junior Program is available to athletes who are no older than 20 years of age, Hathaway said, adding that the addition will add a crucial age element to Aspen Junior Hockey.

"With a highly structured youth hockey market already in place throughout Colorado, the addition of the RMJHL provides players in the region legitimate and affordable post-graduate options to continue their development," Hathaway said, adding that the development is defined in the USA Hockey long-term athletic development model.

"The Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League provides a structured and responsible junior hockey league in a sensible geographic footprint," Hathaway said. "The RMJHL significantly strengthens the final avenue of amateur development for student-athletes dedicated to pursuing a collegiate hockey career in the ACHA and NCAA."

Hathaway said the inaugural 2015-16 RMJHL season will feature a 40-game regular-season schedule for the teams.

The RMJHL playoff champion will advance to the USA Hockey Tier-3 Junior National Tournament.

Hathaway said the plan is for the Aspen Leafs to play their games at the Aspen Ice Garden in downtown Aspen.

The location will be convenient for visiting hockey fans and residents alike. It also will preserve the ice schedule at Lewis Ice Arena at the Aspen Recreation Center (ARC).

Hathaway said the Aspen Leafs players will participate in community service and outreach programs.

The director of Aspen Junior Hockey outlined the addition of the junior hockey team in correspondence to local junior hockey families.

"I am very excited to announce that Aspen Junior Hockey is expanding its programming to include a 20U (under-20) junior hockey team for the 2015-16 season," Hathaway said. "Available to athletes who are no older than 20 years of age, Junior Hockey provides elite training opportunities for post-graduate players. It is the final step in the youth hockey development model for those pursuing hockey at the collegiate level. "

He said the team will allow players an option to stay home in the Roaring Fork Valley and continue their development instead of moving away to pursue junior hockey.

"The Leafs will look to add local and regional players to its roster in addition to recruiting players nationally. Players coming in from outside of the area will be housed by billet host families," Hathaway said. "Players will also be expected to continue their academic pursuits either at Colorado Mountain College (or online), be employed part-time, or fulfill a minimum of 8 hours of community service per week."

dstrode@aspentimes.com

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