Steamboat Springs In 2012, there were about 460,000 hockey players in America. By playing junior hockey this upcoming year, Tyler Scott, Jarret Walt and Brady Bender will experience the process of how that number gets whittled down to the 216 Americans in the NHL today.
For Walt and Bender, playing hockey after high school always was at the forefront of their plans. For Scott, though, the story was a bit different. He was set on attending Fort Lewis College in the fall, but the passion he had for the game intervened.
“I was planning on going to Fort Lewis until I got the opinions of a lot of people and saw that I wouldn’t get this opportunity to play junior hockey again,” Scott said.
Scott, who graduated from Steamboat Springs High School in June, will play for the Peoria Mustangs in the North American Tier III Hockey League. Walt, a 2013 graduate of Moffat County High School, will join his high school hockey teammate in the NA3HL, where he signed with the Chicago Junior Bulldogs.
After spending three years playing for the U18 Colorado Rampage AAA team, Bender has slightly different plans to play in a more elite league. A 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, he was drafted in the eighth round of this summer’s North American Hockey League draft by the Johnstown (Pa.) Tomahawks.
“I’m excited to play for them next year,” Bender said. “Junior hockey gives you the chance to live and breathe hockey.”
Junior hockey in North America is a complex series of leagues that operates on a Darwinian train of thought. Essentially, the fittest players with the greatest skill move on to play at a higher level in the next league.
All the while, these players are keeping their eye out for other opportunities into which these leagues can catapult them, like allowing them to receive an education and play the game they love at the college level.
Bender echoed the sentiments of Scott and Walt when he said, “I want to get a scholarship. I want to play college hockey.”
Ryan Dingle, a former player for Denver University’s two national championship teams in 2004 and 2005, is someone who knows what it takes to accomplish that goal.
“The main thing I tell players going on to the next level is go out there and be the best at what you do,” Dingle said. “If you’re a goal scorer, score goals. If you’re a defender, play perfect defense. If you’re a goalie, stop the puck. Do what you do, and be the best at it.”
Scott, Walt and Bender each will have to face their struggles in trying to perfect their skills to the point that a league or college takes a look at them. However, it is evident that each player is content with being able to stay on the ice for one more year.
“Just the love of the sport,” Walt said. “I don’t really want to hang up the skates.”
Jake Miller, a 2012 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, is working as a summer intern for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. He recently completed his freshman year at Nebraska Wesleyan University.