Junior hockey league picks up momentum
The Aspen Times
The Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League is celebrating the halfway mark of its inaugural season this week.
Twenty games down; 20 games to go for the six teams in the Colorado league for players age 20 and younger.
“The league has been more successful that many people believed it would be,” said Shaun Hathaway, the commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League and the head of Aspen Junior Hockey. “I think all six of our teams have found stability. For where we are right now, all six teams are becoming even better established in their communities.”
He said league representatives are pleased with the product and the hockey perception of the fledgling hockey league.
“People see this league as viable,” Hathaway said.
He said the players in the RMJHL have established the league’s reputation.
One member of the Aspen Leafs, Russian Ivan Bondurant, already has been called up to the North American Hockey League after he led the RMJHL in scoring and points through the first third of the season.
“That certainly gave us credibility and respectability,” Hathaway said. “That was a positive for the league.”
He said the elevation of Bondurant and others from the RMJHL will continue with hockey scouts now charting games among the six Colorado teams.
Currently, the RMJHL includes the Aspen Leafs, the Pikes Peak Miners, the Breckenridge Bucks, the Colorado Rampage, the Glacier Yetis from Grand Junction and the Colorado Thunderbirds.
“Our coaches in the league have done a very good job of developing players,” Hathaway said. “We hope this will influence more kids to see that they have hockey options.”
Hathaway said he will represent the RMJHL at the USA Hockey meeting in Orlando, Florida, in January. The league will present an expansion plan to add two more teams to the league.
Hathaway said a Vail franchise and a Pueblo franchise (the Pueblo Steelers) hope to join the league for next season.
“That would give us an eight-team league with two divisions — four teams in the mountains and four on the Front Range,” Hathaway said. That could facilitate a savings in travel costs, he said, with a mountain grouping and a Front Range grouping.
Hathaway said the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League just completed arrangements for the end-of-season playoffs.
The top four teams in the RMJHL will convene in a round-robin, double-elimination format tournament to determine the champion.
The end-of-season tournament will be played at the Cadet Ice Arena at the Air Force Academy, Hathaway said.
The playoffs could be matched with the postseason playoffs for the Air Force Falcons.
“We’re excited to play at the Air Force Academy,” Hathaway said.
He added that as the head of Aspen Junior Hockey and the Aspen Leafs team in the 20U league, he is extremely pleased with the progress of the Aspen Leafs under the direction of coach Jay Miller.
“Jay’s done a great job recruiting these kids and developing these kids on the ice,” Hathaway said. “They are getting better.”
He said the Aspen Leafs players also have logged more than 250 volunteer hours in the Aspen community.
“And we want to make the reach even further,” Hathaway said.
He said he’s been very pleased with the turnout of fans in Aspen for the games at the Aspen Ice Garden.
“It’s been a fun atmosphere,” Hathaway said, adding the Leafs hope to drawn the fans back for key games down the stretch of the first season.
The community outreach for the Aspen Leafs included a fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen Foundation to fight breast cancer.
The Leafs officials, including Hathaway and special events coordinator Blake Hull, presented a check for $1,598 to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Hathaway said the tone of play in the RMJHL has been set by the players and the officials.
“There are a lot of officials lining up to do our games,” he said, adding that the league’s coaches and officials have had an open dialogue throughout the season.
The result, he said, has been crisp play with no fighting.
The Pikes Peak Miners from Colorado Springs lead the conference with 40 points. The Miners are 20-2-0, having scored a league-high 170 goals.
The Aspen Leafs are in second place with 38 points. They are 19-5-0.
The Breckenridge Bucks have 32 points on a 16-7-0 record.
Next are the Colorado Thunderbirds at 7-17-0, the Colorado Rampage at 6-16-0 and the Glacier Yetis at 1-22-0.
The Aspen Leafs will be back on home ice Jan. 1-2 when they host the Colorado Thunderbirds at the Aspen Ice Garden.
The following weekend, Jan. 8-9, Aspen will host the Pikes Peaks Miners in a showdown for first place in the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League.
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Teams have two more weekends of racing before the scheduled regional meet on Oct. 9 in Durango. The state cross country meet is slated for Oct. 17 in Colorado Springs.