Head coach Kevin Holmstrom said his Colorado Springs Tigers 18U AAA team has high hopes for the season, including being competitive in the North American Prospects Hockey League. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Tigers
The club hockey season is underway, meaning the Pikes Peak Region’s two 18U AAA teams have more questions about themselves than games played.
That learning process gets a jump-start with a rivalry series between the Colorado Rampage and the Tigers of the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association taking place this weekend. The Tigers travel to the Rampage’s Colorado Sports and Events Center in Monument for an 8:15 p.m. Saturday contest followed by the conclusion of the home-and-home series at 2:35 p.m. in the Sertich Ice Center near downtown Colorado Springs.
“It will be a hard-fought battle,” said Rampage coach Luke Fulghum. “We need to make sure we respect our opponent and do what we can do. It’s definitely a rivalry. For a lot of these kids, they switched programs or even grew up playing with each other. Hockey is a small world.”
Tigers coach Kevin Holmstrom said his squad is excited for the series, but downplayed the rivalry, adding that it’s another opportunity for the players to improve.
“We just hope they handle it well and keep the focus on the right goals,” Holmstrom said.
Seven players from the 2018-19 Rocky Mountain District championship team (pictured) are on the Rampage's 18U team this season, helping give coach Luke Fulghum a "solid" 18-member squad. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Rampage
Both coaches are keeping long-term goals in mind with national tournament berths and Colorado Amateur Hockey Association and national league championships on the line much later.
“We have a solid 18 squad,” Fulghum said, citing seven returning Rampage players from last season’s national tournament team and newcomer Bryce Cooper, who was selected to the USA Hockey U16 National Player Development Camp this past summer.
Also read: Hub Q&A with Rampage defenseman Bryce Cooper
Some players to watch include Jack Boxer, Nick Cimino, Kory DiPonio, Mikey Harrell, Jake Jensen, Carter Rapalje, Sander Willard, and Trevor Zimmer. The goalies include Jackson Broussard and Michael Turell.
“We are younger more than older, which is the reverse for us the past two seasons,” Fulghum said, referring to consecutive runner-up regular-season finishes in the Tier 1 Elite League. "So, there will be some growing pains for us, but in the end we want to make sure that we are playing our best hockey in January and February.
“We have high expectations,” he added. “We were very good the last few years, so we are looking to keep building on that.”
"We have high expectations ... We were very good the last few years, so we are looking to keep building on that."
— Luke Fulghum,
Hopes are high for the Tigers as well. They compete at the state level and also in the North American Prospects Hockey League, an affiliate of the Tier 2 NAHL to which many aspire. Holmstrom hopes the team develops as the season progresses, learning more about themselves in the competitive NAPHL during October and December tournaments.
The club opened its season at the NAPHL Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota, last weekend, finishing with a 2-2 record. The Tigers also picked up an extra scrimmage the night their flight from Minnesota landed, allowing them the opportunity to learn more about the squad, which will rely on two goalies — Keaton French of Fairbanks and Breckenridge’s Nicholas Junkin — to make the jump from successful 16U seasons to 18U.
Colorado Springs native Adam Alldredge also recorded four points (three assists) after tallying nine points in 20 NAPHL regular-season games. They and fellow forward Erik Gibboney of Salt Lake City are likely to make the scoresheet often with offensive support from 17-year-old defensemen Luke Gosnell (Breckenridge) and Taber Gutschick (Colorado Springs).
“We really like our team and its depth,” Holmstrom said. “They did a lot of things right and we saw areas that need some work.”