Over the past few years, Breckenridge and the community of Summit County have slowly but surely become a hockey town.
With an arena similar to those seen in small Canadian towns, Stephen C. West Ice Arena – just outside of downtown Breckenridge – offers young, old and even semi-professional skaters the opportunity to be part of the Summit hockey community.
The Summit Youth Hockey non-profit program has been at the epicenter of building Breckenridge into a tight-knit hockey town. Based at the Stephen C. West Ice Arena, the program strives to develop the game among Summit youth by providing a safe environment for boys and girls to foster teamwork, sportsmanship and respect through the sport of hockey.
For the past three years, JR Engelbert has served as Director of Operations for the Summit Youth Hockey Program while simultaneously serving as Head Coach of the Summit High School Hockey Team and the Breckenridge Vipers Semi-Pro Hockey Team. .
Prior to taking on the position of full-time operations manager, Engelbert had volunteered as a coach, helping to share his love for the game with Summit youth. Over the past few years, Engelbert has easily seen the program grow.
One of the ways Engelbert and hockey manager Chris Miller have seen the program grow is through the mite program.
“The most important thing with growing up is the mite-free program we offer to first-year players – ages 8 and under (for boys) or 10 and under for girls,” Engelbert said. . “Our goal is to have around 100 participants each year.”
The Mite program helps introduce young children to the sport and also provides players for the program’s older teams in the future.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed – is that the free mites have helped our program progress over the years where they’re reaching older ages and still have very high numbers,” said Engelbert. “A lot of other mountain programs reach older ages and start to struggle because kids choose different options. They also start with smaller numbers because they don’t offer quite the same introduction to hockey that we do.
In addition to skates, Summit Youth Hockey provides all necessary equipment for participants, making it a cost-effective way for kids to get started in the sport.
Engelbert has seen many athletes, including himself, become attached to hockey because of the bonds that develop between teammates. For him, it’s this connection that sets hockey apart from many other sports that Summit County offers kids during the winter season.
“Hockey is a little bit different in the bond, the chemistry and the friendships that are formed compared to different sports,” Engelbert said. “It’s different, and the bonds are stronger. These kids are making friends and memories not just on the ice, but ones they will remember for the rest of their lives.
Program staff members want hockey to make every child a better human being.
“Friendships, accountability, responsibility, commitment, work ethic — kind of all those off-ice skills that translate to real-world settings,” Engelbert said, referring to the skills they want kids to learn.
While involved with the program for several years, Engelbert has already seen some of his former athletes embark on bigger and better things. This spring, Summit Youth Hockey alumni Cooper Pederson, Blaze Ebbinghaus and Eli Powers all signed to play hockey for junior-level teams or clubs.
“It says a lot about their passion and work ethic for the game,” Engelbert said. “It helps us because it shows you can stay in Summit County, play hockey for your local club and still have options down the road.”
The trio of athletes not only demonstrates Summit Youth Hockey’s success from a hockey perspective, but it’s also a testament to the program that develops well-rounded adults.
“Summit Youth Hockey has made me a player who knows the game inside and out. It also allowed me to realize my potential…and exceed it,” Ebbinghaus said of his years with the program. “Summit Youth Hockey gave me the tools and training I could use to improve my game on and off the ice.”
Summit Youth Hockey will begin its season next week on Monday September 12 with the program’s mixed U10, U12, U14 teams and the U12 and U19 women’s teams. The trials will take place during the first two weeks of training before the players are selected into two teams per age category. The dust mite program will start in November.
This season, Engelbert hopes to continue seeing success in the Summit Youth Hockey program as well as increasing the girls’ participation rate.
“Hockey is for girls too,” Engelbert said. “The participation of our girls at U12 and below is really strong, so we just want to continue to build that momentum in that younger age group and move forward.”
To register for the next season or get more information, visit SummitHockey.org.