HPHL proving to be competitive spring hockey option
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Hockey in the spring? Why not? The High Plains Hockey League (HPHL) has proven since 2000 that it can be done.
The USA Hockey-affiliated high school league gives hundreds of Colorado hockey players an opportunity each year to represent their school and community and play alongside their friends and classmates.
A total of 34 varsity and 15 junior varsity co-ed teams and four girls teams are expected to play in spring 2016. Co-ed teams are mainly made up of boys.
Anyone can participate in the league, no matter the skill level. Some teams are a combination of schools. Home-schooled students are welcome.
The varsity level has three tiers “because that level has everything from AAA to house league players,” said HPHL president Ralph Bammert.
Most league teams are based in the metro Denver area. There also are teams in Breckenridge, Fort Collins-Loveland, Greeley and Colorado Springs.
Tom McGann has coached the Monarch High School varsity team from Louisville since 2010. He’s a huge fan of the HPHL.
“I feel it’s the best youth hockey league in the state,” he said.
Why? First of all, McGann said, the Tier I varsity level, of which Monarch is a member, is super competitive.
“We had eight AAA players on our team last year and we finished in fourth place out of six teams (in the Wales Division),” he said.
Junior varsity is less competitive, McGann said, but filled with camaraderie.
Then there’s a benefit that’s life-changing.
“You have to have a 2.0 grade-point average to start the season and a 2.0 to compete in the playoffs,” McGann said. “Every year in our division, we have two or three guys who get their grades up and graduate from high school because they want to be in the playoffs. Because of hockey, they do everything they need to do to graduate.”
League registration fees are modest, ranging from $30 to $75 per player, but scholarships are available for families struggling financially. Gate receipts collected during the playoffs fund the scholarships. Players also pay a fee to their team to cover ice, officials and scorekeepers.
“We’ve offered scholarships for at least 10 years,” Bammert said. “We ask families to provide information as to why a scholarship is necessary and a committee rules on who gets scholarships. We give more money to those in greater need.”
The league has a beneficial relationship with the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. Each HPHL player can get two free tickets to a selected Avalanche home game at the Pepsi Center.
Bammert said the league and Avalanche began an arrangement five years ago that sends a portion of league fees to the Avalanche for the tickets.
“Some teams make going to an Avalanche game a team event,” Bammert said.
Bammert is a league president without a salary. He’s a volunteer who has a “day job” as a federal government employee.
All 12 members of the league’s board of directors are volunteers. League administrator Anda Craven is paid to oversee day-to-day operations and Bammert said some coaches are paid a stipend for expenses.
“The league doesn’t monitor how coaches are compensated,” he said.
As for league games, each varsity team plays 14 regular-season games and each junior varsity team plays 12 regular-season games. Girls teams play 10 regular-season games. Each team makes the double-elimination playoffs, which end on Mother’s Day weekend.
Varsity games are 17-minute stop-time periods. Junior varsity and girls games are 15-minute stop-time periods.
USA Hockey rules are enforced, plus a player is fined $200 if a game misconduct is assessed for fighting or abuse of an official or opposing player.
The league began with only a few teams and has grown through the years. Bammert said league officials want the growth to continue where it makes sense.
“We’re getting inquiries from Colorado Springs,” he said. “That’s an area of possible future growth.”
— Steve Stein