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Time with NCDC’s Jr. Comets looking to open doors to future for Boulder native Gatewood

 

Payne Gatewood has been around hockey his entire life, and he’s hoping to extend that past junior hockey.

Now in his second season with the NCDC’s Utica Jr. Comets, the Boulder native is playing his final season of junior hockey with an eye on playing NCAA hockey in 2024-25.

For now, he’s relishing every minute with the New York-based team.

“I was given the opportunity to skate with the team during my senior year at Nichols School and I loved everything about the organization,” Gatewood said. “I was offered a tender shortly after that and played my first year of juniors there. This season, I started out in North Dakota with the (NAHL’s) Minot Minotauros but was released after the showcase in Blaine, Minn. I called Coach Lou (Educate, head coach of Utica) and he welcomed me back with open arms. Although I was released, I have found my groove in Utica and I couldn’t ask for a better group of guys and coaching staff in my age-out season.”

Going back two years, Gatewood said the initial thought of playing in Utica was a positive that has continued to this day.

“Honestly, everything about the Utica Jr. Comets was appealing,” said Gatewood. “The players, the coaches, and the facilities blew me away the first time I skated with the team. We play at the Adirondack Bank Center, which is the home rink for the Utica Comets in the AHL. Additionally, we have the Nexus Center, which was built halfway through last season. The Nexus Center has two more sheets of ice and a new gym for our team. My teammates are selfless and play for the logo on the front, not for the name on the back. The coaching staff provides constant feedback, tips, and constructive criticism, which is very beneficial for the team and for individual development.

“The Jr. Comets organization is certainly a diamond in the rough.”

With the holiday break now in the past, Gatewood is focused on finishing the rest of the season on a high note.

“This season has been close to perfect for both myself and the team,” Gatewood said. “The first day I arrived in Utica this season, myself and other returning players have emphasized the importance of building a winning culture, which is something the team has lacked in years past. Coach Educate has embraced our ideas and really helped engrave the winning mentality into the core of our team. Everything we do is by committee, which is hard to attain at the junior level. I am extremely proud of every individual thus far, and I couldn’t be happier to lead such a great group of people.

“Personally, I have really found my game this year. Over the summer, I skated with former NHLer Zenon Konopka, who has been my skill development coach the past few years. My offensive instincts and IQ have elevated a lot, and I credit much of that to Coach Konopka. He focuses on teaching hockey IQ and timing, which has helped me showcase my physical skills much more than previous years.”

Growing up, hockey turned into a unique experience for Gatewood.

“My dad is from Buffalo, so I grew up watching the Sabres,” explained Gatewood. “I would always watch the games with him and I fell in love it instantly. The speed, skill, and toughness of the game is unlike any other sport, and it became my dream to play for the Sabres. Although the Avs weren’t my favorite team, I always loved going to the games and cheering them on. I started skating was when I was four years old, and the first team I played on was in Nederland. The rink was outdoors in the mountains and we got dressed in heated sheds. Practicing there was surreal, and I never wanted to leave. I grew up in Boulder, so driving to Nederland to skate was a long drive, especially when it snowed, but I loved it there.

“When I reached Mites, I played for the Boulder Bison, where I played all the way up to Bantams. During my time with the Bison, I made unforgettable memories, winning state championships, Silver Sticks, and more. I credit a lot of my success today to my coaches at Boulder Hockey Club: Bobby Dominski, Chris Lockrem, and James Mercure, who all taught me the fundamentals of the game, while also being great role models and coaches. The coaches and teammates who I spent many years with is something I will never forget. I still have friends who I talk to regularly who I haven’t seen in over six years. The amount of extra hours Coach Lockrem, Coach Dominski, and Coach Mercure spent with me to improve my game is mind blowing, and I am extremely grateful for them for helping me become the player I am today.”

After the NCDC season wraps in a couple months, Gatewood is banking on advancing up the hockey ladder once again.

“As of right now, my main goal is to play NCAA D-I hockey,” Gatewood said. “If that doesn’t work out, there are some great D-III schools I am interested in as well. I want to play pro after college if the opportunity presents itself, but I also want to have a strong education for life outside of hockey. I currently don’t know what I want to study, but I will be exploring more in detail after the season.”

Photo/Kyle Martino

— Matt Mackinder

(January 1, 2024)

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