Aspen Leafs U20 junior hockey team to go dormant for 2017-18 season
Citing “insurmountable issues,” the Aspen Leafs Tier 3 U20 junior hockey team is going to sit out the 2017-18 season.
A founding member of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League that was set to enter their third season of existence, the Leafs ran into a series of roadblocks this offseason that led to Aspen Junior Hockey Executive Director Shaun Hathaway pulling the plug.
“It’s difficult. Having this team, it completes our pathway of development for boys, defined by USA Hockey. And certainly if run correctly would provide a great benefit to the community as well as our members,” Hathaway told The Aspen Times on Tuesday. “We have our franchise in dormancy. It gives us this year to reevaluate and I’ll be working with our board to decide whether or not Aspen Junior Hockey wants to bring a team back in for the next year.”
The Leafs ran into significant hurdles regarding a coaching staff and roster during the offseason. The team hired Blake Hull in May to replace Jay Miller as head coach, only to have Hull tender his resignation late last month. With no viable coaching candidates, an almost non-existent roster and other internal issues plaguing the program from the previous coaching staff, Hathaway felt there was little choice but to go with a “complete reset.”
Per RMJHL bylaws, Hathaway was forced to resign as the league’s board president as he is no longer affiliated with an active league team.
“It’s tough to see a guy like that who’s put so much time and effort and heart into something have to take a step back for a season,” first-year RMJHL commissioner Adrian Veideman said. “Anytime you run into a situation like this, it’s tough on everybody. It’s not just Aspen — it’s tough on the league. Adjustments need to be made. We fully support Shaun and Aspen’s decision. We are looking forward to them hopefully rebuilding and coming back next year.”
With Aspen sitting out, the RMJHL will play the upcoming season with five teams. The Breckenridge Bolts, which sat out the 2016-17 season, was set to return as the sixth team this season. Instead, they will fill the void left by Aspen and join the Colorado Thunderbirds, Colorado Rampage, Pikes Peak Miners and Steamboat Wranglers when the season gets underway in October.
The Leafs will have until early next year to figure out their future, and whether or not that future will involve the Aspen community. Hathaway is optimistic, given time, the Leafs will return to the RMJHL.
Part of the reason behind going dormant was to keep from hindering the Aspen Junior Hockey program as a whole, which is strong in members. AJH recently partnered with the Colorado Avalanche for a new Mites program, is bringing another Finnish Ice Hockey Association coach in for a season, and led the charge in creating a girls AA 19-and-under team.
Now, it’s about finding where the U20 team fits into the equation, if it does.
“I underestimated how much of a reset really was needed and we simply ran out of time to make it happen,” Hathaway said. “Sometimes to make things perfect, you got to step back. You have to fail to have success sometimes. But I have no doubt we’ll be back strong, and whether or not that includes a junior team we’ll find that out.”
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