Keith Howie named head coach of Aspen High School’s varsity hockey team

From his roots in Canada to the hallowed halls of Cornell University and finally to the Roaring Fork Valley, hockey has long shaped Keith Howie’s life. Next, he’ll look to take those experiences and share them with the Aspen High School hockey team as its next head coach.

“I’ve always really enjoyed coaching in the mountains, and especially coaching in Aspen,” the 55-year-old Howie told The Aspen Times. “I’m the old guy on the block, but with age comes experience. I’m able to bring a lot of experience. I’ve seen a lot of hockey, I’ve played a lot of hockey, and I’ve seen it both at high levels.”

AHS athletic director Martha Richards recently chose Howie to replace Dru Lucchesi, who resigned to pursue a career opportunity not related to coaching. Lucchesi had been the Skiers’ head coach since the 2014-15 season; their best run came during the 2017-18 season when AHS finished 14-5-3 overall and advanced to the state quarterfinals.

“We are delighted to have Keith become our varsity head coach,” Richards said in a news release. “He brings a wealth of expertise and experience in coaching hockey at all levels, and will do a great job of bringing our varsity and JV teams together as an entire program.”

Howie has been a coach in the area for nearly two decades, working primarily with the Aspen Junior Hockey program. In recent years, he’s worked alongside Kirk Golden with the AJH single-A and AA girls teams, which included Howie’s daughter, Charlotte, a 2020 AHS graduate. The single-A team won its third straight state championship this past season, while the AA teams have been a consistent presence in national tournaments.

Along with coaching the girls, Howie has helped out with the high school program. He spent three years as a volunteer assistant under Lucchesi, focusing on game analysis, and this past season was an assistant with the junior varsity team alongside JV head coach Lindsey Holmbeck. Holmbeck and Johno McBride have already been added to the varsity coaching staff for the 2020-21 season.

“Being the parent, I would have loved if Charlotte had another year to play hockey and lacrosse, but she’s going away next year, so the timing was good,” Howie said of taking over the AHS program. Charlotte will play lacrosse at Bowdoin College in Maine next season. “I’m going to put my energies into this program, so I don’t think I’ll be coaching the girls. But you never know. I may make some surprise appearances.”

Keith Howie grew up in Quebec and played four years of hockey at Cornell. Needing something to do as he finished up his degree after his playing eligibility ran dry, Howie jumped right into coaching. He started off as a co-coach with the men’s junior varsity program at Cornell and was an assistant with the women’s varsity program. He spent one season as the women’s head coach, leading them to the Ivy League championship in 1990.

From there he left Cornell for New York City to pursue his main career path as an architect. Not long after, he found his way to the valley, where he’s been since. He currently works for Poss Architecture in Aspen.

Howie takes over an AHS team coming off one of its worst seasons in program history in terms of record, having finished 3-11-4 overall. The Skiers still snuck into the 24-team state tournament as the No. 23 seed, losing to No. 10 Ralston Valley in the first round, 6-1.

AHS hockey won its lone state championship in 2007.

“It might be a little bit of a rebuilding year, but I’m cautiously optimistic about our talent level,” said Howie, who hopes to get players on the ice this summer if coronavirus-related restrictions allow it. “We’ll be a competitive team.”

The hockey landscape will look different this coming winter as the Colorado High School Activities Association recently approved a move to split the sport into two classifications for the first time. There will be 20 teams in Class 5A, while Aspen will be one of 17 in Class 4A.

Parity had become a major issue for high school hockey over recent years, with larger programs such as Regis Jesuit, Cherry Creek, Ralston Valley and Valor Christian dominating at the state level. Since Aspen’s title in 2007, those four schools alone have combined to win all but three of the state championships. Each of those programs will compete in 5A, which will open a lot of possibilities for the 4A schools to win hardware.

“It’s going to even the playing field and I think it’s going to be some really competitive leagues, which I think is great,” Howie said of the new classifications. “If you can make the leagues more competitive and make it a better experience for everyone, it’s a win-win.”