Expectations high for WSHL’s RoughRiders
By Matt Mackinder
For most junior teams, rosters are comprised of players from across the United States and even parts of Canada and Europe.
The Western States Hockey League’s (WSHL) Colorado RoughRiders, formerly the Boulder Jr. Bison, though, have a group made up of in-state talents who played at several different youth associations growing up, including Boulder Hockey Club (BHC) and the Arvada, Hyland Hills, Littleton and Foothills Hockey Associations.
“It’s a lot of fun playing with kids I’ve grown up playing with and against,” said forward Tanner West. “Great chemistry comes from players who’ve been together that long.
“There’ll always be ribbing going on between teammates who grew up playing against each other. It’s all fun and games, but you always have to rip on their home team from time to time.”
Defenseman Nick Kuhn agrees.
“I think it’s really cool playing with guys I played with and against throughout my youth career,” said Kuhn, who played last year in the Czech Republic. “It’s a lot of fun having some of the best players from each association on the same team.
“Of course, there’ll always be some banter back and forth between the boys from different associations; as an Arvada boy, I always have to let the Littleton boys know how much better Arvada is.”
RoughRiders coach Paul DePuydt says as long as the players fit in and play as a team, that’s all that matters.
“We try to make sure all of them integrate with relative ease,” said DePuydt. “We speak a lot about the team-first mentality and what it takes to be successful and become a great team.
“Team chemistry is certainly important, and we try to do some early-season activities that give the guys an opportunity to get to know each other well and bond.
“We take pride in developing Colorado players and we feel we can help develop them into collegiate athletes.”
Moving from the Jr. Bison to the RoughRiders was a collaborative effort between BHC and the Rocky Mountain RoughRiders; DePuydt says the RoughRiders’ brand carries plenty of weight as an organization that always strives to develop true student-athletes.
“We place player development and promotion to higher levels at the top of our priority list,” DePuydt said. “We feel doing things with respect, integrity and making a commitment to our players’ development will essentially lead to winning games and championships.”
And with the state’s junior offerings growing year after year – there are three Colorado-based teams in the AAU-sanctioned WSHL this season with the USA Hockey-backed Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League set debut next year – DePuydt says programs need to be cautious of watering down the talent across the board.
“The landscape of junior hockey in Colorado has changed quite a bit over the past few seasons,” he said. “It’s great for competition to have more teams in the greater Denver area, but the level of play needs to stay high so we keep the players’ development at the forefront.”
Forward Hunter Behrens, in his final season of junior eligibility, has high hopes for the RoughRiders this season.
“This is my hometown and this is where my junior career started, so it felt fitting to finish it up here,” Behrens said. “We want to win the Thorne Cup. We’ve got a great group of kids here that’s led by a lot of experienced vets and the way things are in the locker room, it feels like we’ve been playing with each other for years. I’m excited to see how far we can take this.”
Kuhn holds similar expectations.
“I think we have a very special team,” he said. “We’re extremely hard-working and very close as a group. I expect us to win the Mountain Division and make a good run at the Cup.”