Littleton native Hampton enjoying season away from home with USPHL’s Blazers
Tanner Hampton went to the 2023 CCM Hockey Showcase with no expectations, but left the event at the Ice Centre at the Promenade with options for junior hockey.
One of those was with the USPHL’s Bellingham Blazers, the team the Littleton native wound up signing with for the 2023-24 season.
“I just wanted to see where I matched up with other high-level players my age,” Hampton said. “I was getting lots of texts from different coaches, and was talking to them as I got the texts, but the one conversation that stood out to me was with Larry MacDonald representing the Bellingham Blazers. When I first talked to Larry, he laid out the workout and practice plan for every week, which was extremely appealing. Playing in Colorado, I was used to a maximum of three practices in a week, with a team workout once every other week. Bellingham has each of those daily. I visited Bellingham in early July to skate with head coach Mark MacDonald as well as some of the players.
“I immediately fell in love with the facility and the style of coaching Mark practiced. Talking to the players both returning from the previous year and some new ones that had spent more time up here, I loved their attitudes and their desire to get better. It seemed like we all shared the common goal of stepping to the next level of hockey and everyone was willing to put in the work to do so.”
Living in Washington has also been an adjustment for Hampton, but he’s been loving every minute.
“It has not been as bad as I thought it would be,” said Hampton. “I was very fortunate to be placed with a fantastic billet family that makes me feel at home while I am here. I still call home a few times a week to check in and see how things are going. It is taxing at times being away from my family for this long, but I just have to remember that I am up here doing what I love as a full-time job, and that they are in full support back home.”
Growing up, hockey became a passion for Hampton at a young age.
“I started hockey in Littleton with the Foothills Flyers,” Hampton said. “I don’t exactly remember the events, but the story from my parents goes that I went to a Catch an Edge tournament with my dad when I was three to watch some of his coworkers’ kids play and left throwing a tantrum about how I wanted to play hockey.
“The Avs did not have a direct role in my hockey career, but being my favorite NHL team, it was always my dream to play for them.”
Hampton started with the Flyers when he was three years old and played there through his first year of Pee Wee hockey. He then moved to the Krivo School of Hockey Elite for his second year of Pee Wees and loved it, but unfortunately could not play there the next year due to a lack of players. Hampton was then off to the Arvada Hockey Association for his first year of Bantams and had a fun year, but decided it wasn’t the right fit for me. Hampton said he then took a year off of team hockey and strictly did private lessons to work on his personal skills.
“After that year, I played my first year of Midget hockey with the Littleton Hawks on their 15U AA team in the CSDHL,” explained Hampton. “That was also the year that COVID hit, and we were forced to play out of state as much as possible because Colorado hockey shut down. With how taxing that year was, I decided to take the next couple years to play high school hockey with the Dakota Ridge Eagles. I played two years of varsity hockey with their program, and did not have much success as we only skated twice a week, and had a team workout once every other week if lucky.”
Still, Hampton said he can name several coaches from Colorado that stand out and had major roles with his development.
“When I think of influential coaches from my time in Colorado, there are three that come to mind, the first being Dillon Bozeman with the Foothills Flyers,” Hampton said. “Dillon was who I skated with during my off season about four mornings a week from 5-6 a.m. I have yet to find another skills coach who knows how to help me progress my game the same way he does. All summer leading up to my departure for Bellingham, I was skating with him 2-3 times a week staying in shape and progressing my game to the best of my ability. The second coach that comes to mind is Jason Gour with the Littleton Hawks. While I was still in 8U, he started giving me private lessons, to work on my edge work, stride efficiency, and most importantly how to celly when I score. Whenever I have questions about my hockey career, he is a guy that I can reach out to whenever and will always give me the most honest answer imaginable. The final coach that comes to mind is Bryan Smith with Rocky Mountain Hockey Schools. Being my coach at Foothills for my second year of Squirts, and also running many influential summer camps, Coach Smitty always put a smile on my face while I was playing. He knew how to coach me, knew exactly how much to push me to make me the best hockey player I could be. He also has more wisdom about the game than most people I know. Whenever I have questions about the game, or even my path through juniors, he is my first call.
“These three coaches are what drive me to push to my fullest potential every day and are the reason I am the hockey player that I am today. I will remember every year and season from Colorado. It is home and where I developed my love for the sport of hockey. Even when a season doesn’t go as planned, and even when my team had a losing record, hockey is still the sport I love, and I will always have memories from each season.”
Moving ahead, Hampton has his eye on keeping on moving up the hockey ladder.
“My short-term goals in hockey are to progress my game far enough this year to make the jump to Tier II hockey,” said Hampton. “Next year, I am working to be ready for either the NAHL, NCDC, or BCHL. As far as long-term goals for hockey, I would like to play NCAA hockey in college. I don’t know yet what my future holds as far as school, and what I want to study, but school is definitely in the picture as I want to play college hockey.”
— Matt Mackinder
(October 31, 2023)