Thriving HPHL continues to gain popularity
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The High Plains Hockey League (HPHL) has been around for over 15 years, but only in the past few has the spring high school league blossomed to unprecedented levels.
When Ralph Bammert took over as president of the circuit eight years ago, never would he have imagined the marked progress the league would make in terms of size, diversity and competitiveness.
During the 2015 season, which ran from March into May, there were approximately 1,100 players playing in the league – a significant increase from a year ago.
The HPHL iced 34 varsity, 15 junior varsity and a quartet of girls teams this year, and champions were crowned in eight divisions: Rock Canyon (Tier I Wales Varsity); HTB (Tier I Campbell Varsity and JV Tier I); Cherokee Trail (Tier II Varsity); Ponderosa (Tier III Varsity); the Greeley Freeze (Tier IV Varsity); Lewis Palmer (JV Tier II); and the Monarch Coyotes (Girls Varsity).
“When this league started out in the late 1990s, it only had four teams in (Denver’s) Northern Metro area,” said Bammert.
“You see the growth and popularity of high school hockey in the state now – and the way the people and schools continue to work together – and the HPHL is just booming.”
In fact, Bammert believes the HPHL was instrumental in helping grow the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) segment.
“Many of the recent expansion CHSAA teams had HPHL teams first,” he said.
The most recent season saw 431 games played combined at all divisions and, most importantly, the competition was spirited across the board.
“Kids are just so excited to get to the rink and play,” said Bammert.
“I guess you could call us a rec league, but we get Tier I AAA kids who come play after their seasons are over and they embrace the opportunity to represent their school,” Bammert said. “For a lot of kids, once you go to AAA, you don’t wear your school colors on the ice; now, you can.”
Bammert added that while the season is short, the coaches involved take the game seriously. They come from all walks of life, and a handful played the game at the junior and college levels. Each coach must have at least their USA Hockey Level 1 certification and also be compliant with USA Hockey’s Safe Sport Program.
“More players brings in more coaches, obviously,” said Bammert. “Our coaches certainly help with the reputation of the league and, for many of them, they coach other teams, so when that season ends they jump right in with their HPHL teams. It works out very well.”
Bammert says he fields calls and messages on a consistent basis from teams looking to join the HPHL and, for the 2016 season, the league could very well undergo expansion.
“But it has to be a right fit for the current league members,” said Bammert, who says the league is actively reviewing new applications for next season. “We don’t expand for the sole sake of expansion.”
And he says the HPHL is always striving to evolve.
“We’re also looking at other ways to keep improving and growing,” said Bammert. “Do we tweak the schedule? Do we shorten the season? Do we want more practices?
“Those are some ideas we throw around a lot. We’re not losing teams; we’re gaining teams and that’s definitely a good situation to be in – where people want to join you.”
Bammert says the future is nothing but bright for the HPHL.
“We want to be better than rec hockey, and I think we’ve shown we can be,” said Bammert. “This league is something that’s in demand and we intend to keep the momentum moving in the right direction.”
Registration for the 2016 spring season will open in December. More information will be available at HighPlainsHockey.com.
– Matt Mackinder