Colorado sees high school numbers trending skyward
The Colorado Prep Hockey League (CPHL) continues to experience growth on various levels.
Two years ago, the CPHL had just six teams and after growing to 13 teams in 2014, the league now boasts 22 varsity programs for the 2015-16 season. Four junior varsity squads have also been added to the mix this year.
The numbers are a vast indicator of the current state of high school hockey in Colorado and how participation numbers continue to grow.
The CPHL season goes from Sept. 1 through the first weekend in November, completing the schedule before the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) tryouts with no overlap in seasons.
That’s by design.
The kids playing on the CPHL teams also represent their high schools during the CHSAA season, but as kids tend to do, they have pride in the school that they play for and the CPHL has given them the opportunity to do so for longer than the four months that the high school season lasts.
“Kids love playing for their school,” CPHL president and Heritage High School coach Jeremy Sims said. “When they play for their school, they’re wearing their school colors, playing in front of friends and classmates. They take a lot of pride in playing for their school.”
And the numbers indicate that more kids will be getting that opportunity in the future. In March, the CHSAA hockey committee suggested allowing teams to officially field JV squads. Several teams had non-sanctioned JV teams in previous years, but this would allow those teams to fall under the CHSAA umbrella and be counted as official high school teams.
But for the varsity teams that cut their seasons off right before the start of the high school hockey year, they find that the players come in closer to mid-season form and in solid shape for the grind of the next season. They’re not in a situation where the players have to shake off the rust during the early games and they’re in prime condition for league play.
“We did this because it was one of those things going into the CHSAA season, some of the other teams that had been playing together, they had full systems in play,” Sims said. “We were just at the start of our season, so this has definitely helped us work with our kids and give the kids who come through our program all the way opportunities to play at a higher level that they normally wouldn’t have.”
The overall results for the competition of hockey in this age group have been positive. In November, two high school club teams won national championships, showing just how strong high school hockey in Colorado is at this time.
Following their state championship win, Cherry Creek took its club team to USA Hockey High School National Tournament and won the combined (teams pulling players from multiple schools) title. The pure (teams pulling from only a single school) title went to Regis Jesuit, another Colorado school, as the state came away with a clean sweep at the Hardee’s Iceplex in Chesterfield, Mo.
“We definitely have some pretty good talent at the high school level, here in Colorado.” Sims added.
That said, Sims said it’s only going to get better. With the way the CPHL has expanded in recent years and with the numbers shifting toward high school hockey, plus the addition of JV teams, this might be the most exciting period of growth the sport has seen at this level.
“I think we’re still growing,” Sims said. “I think more and more kids are going into high school knowing that they are going to play high school hockey. That’s a huge change for small programs like Columbine, Cheyenne Mountain and Heritage. The Heritage program is bigger than it’s ever been.”
— Dan Mohrmann